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CHAPTER VII.: of religion, and the differences and disputations thereabout. - 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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of religion, and the differences and disputations thereabout.
Only men of all earthly creatures are capable of religion:* which is, also, so natural unto all men, how barbarous soever, that, rather than any country, city, or family would want whereon to bestow their devotions, they would “worship they know not what,” Acts xvii. 23; John iv. 22: yea, which is more, that which they do know, not only to be base and vile, as stocks and stones, but also hurtful, and evil.† As then religion, in the general, is natural; and false religion, of corrupt nature: so is true, and Christian religion by supernatural revelation. For how can that worship of God please him, which is not according to his will? “And who knoweth God's will but by revelation of his Spirit?” 1 Cor. ii. 11, 12. But vain men are ready to deem God like themselves, imagining, that the things which please them, please him as well. Hereupon the heathens have devised to themselves gods, and goddesses of theft, murder, and all manner of filthiness: and even Christians, in name, at least, because the kings and lords of the earth account themselves honoured by their subjects, when they entertain them with pompous shows, and pageants of witty device, are ready fondly to imagine, that their witty, specially stately devices and fancies please the Lord himself, as they do, them: and, therein, deny unto him his two properties; of simplicity in the things; and power in appointing them:‡ but if we will give God his due in religion, we must have him both for the object, and appointer of our worship. The apostate Israelites of old, and antichristians since, are said to have “worshipped devils,” 2 Chron. xi. 15; Rev. ix. 20; not for that they did, at least, ordinarily, direct their worship unto devils; but, for that, at least, more commonly, they followed their suggestions, in the devised manner of worshipping, though even the true, God. As in directing our worship unto him alone, we honour, and acknowledge his majesty and fatherhood, as being “our Father in heaven,” Matt. vi. 9; so in receiving it from him as the only institutor, we honour, and acknowledge both his love in providing, and his wisdom in contriving, and his authority in commanding the manner of his service, and means of our salvation thereby.
This religion is the means of God's worship, and withal, of man's happiness:* which two main ends, God in great wisdom and mercy hath joined together inseparably, that the desire of the latter might provoke to conscience of the former, and the exercise of the former effectually promote, and further the obtaining of the latter. And this, being the only way to happiness, ought to be common to all men, rude and skilful; base and honourable; high and low.† And so all Christians are one in Christ, and Christ one in, and unto them. Gal. iii. 28; John xvii. 21. For though the terrene, and worldly state of the persons, who are Christians, be very different; yet is their spiritual estate of Christianity all one. There is one Lord Christ, through whom, and one faith, by which they are justified, and that equally; one Spirit by which they are sanctified, though in different degrees; one calling of God begun, and perfected by the same gospel, and ordinances thereof. No man's highness of worldly estate can set him above the lowest part of it, or them: nor any's meanness keep him down from flying as high a pitch of Christianity, as any other. An afflicted outward state stands in need of religion to sustain it: a prosperous, to perfect it in eternal happiness, besides the moderating of it in the meanwhile. And, seeing our religion is to God alone; and only the manifestation of it to men; we ought to be alike grounded, in it, and resolved of it, and zealous for it; whether we enjoy the favour of the times, or the contrary.
All things requisite for the performance of religious exercises are not parts of religion; but some are of natural necessity; others for civil order, and comeliness. The former need neither be taught, nor commanded, being imposed by absolute necessity, which is the strongest law. and most pressing master, that may be.* The other are such, as without which all exercises of religion would be confused, and unorderly, and like the chaos which “God made in the beginning, void and without form, and whose face darkness covered.” Gen. i. 1, 2. For these, the general rules of the Word, with common-sense and discretion, are sufficient. Notwithstanding, though things be not therefore comely, and orderly, because they are done of custom, or commanded by authority; but are therefore both used and commanded, lawfully, because they are comely, and orderly: yet if either custom commend, or authority command things that are such indeed, wise, godly, and peaceable men should hold themselves even therefore the more bound unto them.
Religion is the best thing, and the corruption of it the worst: neither hath greater mischief and villany ever been found amongst men, Jews, Gentiles, or Christians, than that which hath marched under the flag of religion, either intended by the seduced, or pretended by hypocrites. The Jews in zeal of God, such as it was, persecuted Christ himself to the death: and Saul in a kind of zeal of the law, was no less than a “blasphemer, persecutor, and oppressor.” 1 Tim. i. 13. Pompey the Roman having erected that arcem omnium turpitudinum, would not call it the stage, or stews, as it was; but the Temple of Venus.† And what shall we think of the Spaniards' Romish zeal ? who, by their own bishop's relation in his first instance of Spanish cruelty, hanged upon one gallows thirteen innocent Indian women, in honour of Christ and of his twelve apostles.‡ But God is not pleased with good intentions exercised in evil actions; much less either pleased, or deceived with the vizards of impiety, and inhumanity: but as he will repay unto the wicked according to their evil works of all kinds; so will he render double vengeance unto them, who under the livery of religion seek countenance for impiety and wickedness.
A man hath, in truth, so much religion, as he hath between the Lord, and himself, in secret, and no more, what shows soever he makes before men: and makes sound proof of his religion both before God, and men, so far as he is forward and ready to every good work, especially to the works of mercy towards them that need. “Pure religion and undefiled before God the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep a man's self unspotted from the world.” James i. 27. There are many civil hypocrites, who, if they converse honestly, and kindly with men, presume of great acceptance from God, though they have little care to know his will in his Word, and less to observe his precepts, and ordinances of worship. There are also religious hypocrites not a few, who because of a certain zeal which they have for and in the duties of the first table, repute themselves highly in God's favour, though they be far from that innocency towards men, specially from that goodness, and love indeed, which the Lord hath inseparably joined with a truly religious disposition. Such persons vainly imagine God to be like unto the most great men, who, if their followers be obsequious to them, in their persons, and zealous for them in the things, which more immediately concern their honours, and profits, do highly esteem of them; though their dealings with others, specially meaner men, be far from honest, or good. But God is not partial, as men are: nor regards that church, and chamber religion towards him, which is not accompanied in the house, and streets, with loving-kindness, and mercy and all goodness towards men. Such are also stuffed with self-love in their very service of God, and do but flatter him for their own advantage: “For if they love not,” and that in truth and deed, “their brother whom they see, how can they love God whom they see not?” 1 John iv. 20. Besides, they sacrilegiously divide the two tables of the law one from the other, making the two great commandments, which Christ saith, are like one to another, to be unlike in effect. In these, pharisaism lives, and faith is dead: who as they shame Christianity, and Christ in it, what in them lies; so shall their recompense from him be answerable at that day, when every man shall receive honour or shame, according to the works, especially of mercy, aud goodness that way, which he hath done, or not done in the flesh.
The common saying, “As good never a whit, as never the better,” is verified in the works of religion: which not being performed, as they ought, for substance, are accounted, as not done, in regard of God's acceptance, and the doer's present benefit. So the new “inhabitants of Samaria served not the Lord; and yet they served the Lord.” 2 Kings xvii. 33. So “he is not a Jew, who is one outwardly, neither that circumcision, which is outward,” to wit only, “in the flesh,” Rom. ii. 28, 29. So the carnal Corinthians in eating the Lord's supper, did not that which “was to eat the Lord's supper,” 1 Cor. xi. 20, 21, to wit, with acceptance from God, and profit to themselves, for the present. I say, for the present: for by after repentance those very Corinthians might come to have and obtain the right use and end of the Lord's ordinance formerly abused by them, and unuseful to them: and so might Simon Magus, by repentance, of the baptism profanely, on his part, received at the first. The reason of this is, because the effect of the Word, and sacraments, and other ordinances of religion is neither natural, as of meat and drink, which must either nourish presently, or not at all: nor depends upon the worthiness of the minister, as the Donatists imagined; no, nor upon the present fitness of the receiver simply, though both minister and receiver ought to be worthy, and fit: but upon God's blessing of that which is his own, in his time, it may be many years after the receiving, unto his elect, and in mercy covering what was formerly amiss both in giver and receiver.
Besides them, who put on “forms of godliness,” 2 Tim. iii. 5, and religion only, as men put on their clothes, because to be naked of all religion would be both shameful, and in many places dangerous; and them, who for love of lucre and riches feign and dissemble in religion;* many of those who seriously mind it, make their choice amiss; as either led by custom of times, and places, in which they live; or by affection and admiration to and of some special persons; or traduced by some vehement passion of anger, fear, envy, or the like; or misled by some guileful appearance, without due examination. And having so done, they commonly set themselves earnestly to advance that faction into which they have once entered, and to depress all others, though oft without competent knowledge of one, or other. Wherein yet they miss, whichsoever is good, or bad; since either may be either, for aught they know. Notwithstanding, we owe this honour to the particular courses of religion which we have once embraced, or wherein we have been brought up, and received any good, that we leave it not lightly; nor further in any particular, than we needs must; nor at all, in the things, which God, in it, in true, and distinct consideration, hath blessed to our spiritual good. To be lightly moved in religion, is childish weakness: but to be stiff without reason, manly obstinacy: and better to be a child in weakness, than a man in perverse obstinateness. The former thinks too well of others, by whom he is too easily moved: the latter thinks too well of himself, despising other men, and God's gifts, and graces in them; as if “the word of God came either from him, or to him alone.” 1 Cor. xiv. 36. And this fault of the two, is both the worse, and more dangerous: the former may in time be more easily confirmed in the truth; as a child, in time, becomes a man: the other is seldom and hardly reclaimed, by reason of his hardness and obstinacy.
Disputations in religion are sometimes necessary, but always dangerous; drawing the best spirits into the head from the heart, and leaving it either empty of all, or too full of fleshly zeal and passion if extraordinary care be not taken still to supply, and .fill it anew with pious affections towards God, and loving towards men. And this the more, considering how the controversies in religion are generally carried with more heat, than of any other subject: for that, besides reason, art, credit, and persuasion of truth, and right, which warm men in other differences, they are in this inflamed, as it were, with zeal for God, and his service: for whom, and which, not to be fervent, seemeth to be derogatory to his, and its honour. We are therefore carefully to beware, and earnestly to pray, that we may in controversies of religion strive for God, and according unto God: seeing in them we both may easily, and do dangerously err, if we miss at all: and therewith, that we neither make our adversary's cause worse than it is; nor conceive a sinister opinion of his affections in it, without reason. In both which men seek unhonest and unconscionable advantages: and are sorry in effect, that they whom they oppose, are not worse than they are.
He that strives for error, strives for Satan against God: he that strives for victory, strives for himself against other men: but he that strives for truth against error, helps the Lord against God's and his own enemy, Satan, the father of lies; and this specially, if withal he handle God's cause according unto God. A man shows most knowledge and understanding in the matter of truth: but most grace in the manner of handling of it, with reverence, holiness, and modesty.
No faculty hath so many unskilful ones to meddle in it; as that of disputing in matter of religion. Which cometh to pass, either because men think it a shame for them not to have both knowledge in, and zeal for that subject: or because they make account in truth, that they venture nothing but words in the voyage, and so can have no great loss: or else, which, is common with ignorants, because they still presume they gain, with whom, or about whatsoever they meddle: whereas, if they had modesty to call things into consideration, and wisdom to discern of them aright, they would find themselves plain losers, where they think their gain greatest.
Divers men are effected diversly with the oppositions, and arguments this way brought against their tenets. Some through feebleness of heart are afflicted with them, as with a troop of enemies invading their possessions: others are lightly turned about, like weather-cocks, with every puff of new doctrine. The complaint is just, and great of the vanity, and wantonness of men, and women, in finding, and following new fashions of apparel: but it were well, if this vanity and newfangledness, were to be seen only on peoples' backs, and that the complaint were not as just, and more grievous of the profane wantonness of many in taking up new forms of faith, and religion, specially in places of liberty, and where men may profess any religion, or none, if they will, without bodily danger. I have known divers, that have more lightly and licentiously changed their religion, and that in no small points, than a sober man would do the fashion of his coat: and who, in my conscience, if it might but have gained, or saved them twelve pence, would have held their former religion still. Others by oppositions are drawn into further search, and examination of things, Acts xvii. 11: and this is commendable, where the matter is such, as we either understand not thoroughly, or may err in. Some again, though of weak understanding, no sooner hear an objection against anything, which they hold, but forthwith they fall upon it with an answer. And this they do oft out of a conceit that it is a point of wit in them, and credit to them, to say something to everything, though little to purpose to anything: in whom the Proverb is verified, to the contrary, “He that answereth a matter before he knows it, it is folly, and shame unto him.” Prov. xviii. 13. Others there are again, who trust most to the scorpion's sting, their venomous tongue, in disgracing, instead of refuting, both cause and person of their opposites, by all possible means: and these are for the most part such, as presume that the times, which they serve, and their credits with them, will countenance, and authorize against their underling adversaries the slanders, and calumnies which they either maliciously invent, or lightly receive, or uncharitably conceive against them: which therefore they spit freely abroad with black tongues as serpents do their poison, to blast, and ‘corrupt whatsoever they light upon. These hot reproachers are often as cold disputers.* There want not also, who affect differences in religion with others, either in wantonness, and for ostentation of wit; or in affectation of singularity; or in envy at superiors; or in contempt of inferiors; or to gratify the mighty, by opposing such, specially of mean condition, as the other hate, and despise. But we should affect strife with none; but study, as far as can be, to accord with all; accounting it a benefit, when we can so do with any; and the contrary, across; and the same the greater,by how much their gifts, or graces, or places are greater, or the bond nearer between them, and us, whether natural, or civil, or religious. Lastly, there are to be found too many, who make either proud contempt, or bold obstinacy a buckler to ward all blows of arguments, that are, or can be brought against their preconceived opinions. We ought to be firmly persuaded in our hearts of the truth, and goodness of the religion, which we embrace in all things; yet as knowing ourselves to be men, whose property it is to err and to be deceived in many things; and accordingly both to converse with men in that modesty of mind, as always to desire to learn something better, or further, by them, if it may be: as also to beg at God's hands the pardon of our errors, Psa. xix. 12; and aberrations, which'may be, and are secret in us, and we not aware thereof.
Whosoever offers the word of God, and holy Scriptures for justification of his religion, deserves to be heard, and to have his cause examined for the very Word's sake, whose testimony he offers to produce: as in civil course, he who offers to bring for his cause witnesses honourable, and worthy of credit, will be admitted to plead it for his witnesses' sake, though not for his own.
No difference, or alienation in religion how great soever, either dissolves any natural, or civil bond of society; or abolisheth any the least, duty thereof. A king, husband, father, &c., though an. heathen, idolater, atheist, or excommunicate, is as well, and as much a king, husband, or father, as if he were the best Christian living: and so both oweth, and hath owing unto him reciprocally the duties and offices of that state, in which he is set, by an inviolable right: which they that deny, are monsters amongst men, and enemies to human societies.
Divisions amongst a few, though not in the greatest matters, are most observed, because first, it is expected that weak parties should be firmly united for their better defence. Secondly, a few, and their doings are remarkable for their fewness, as a handful of foreigners in a strange country. Thirdly, their differences are oft more vehement, partly for the greater zeal, spiritual or carnal, of the persons; and partly because their opposition is more immediate; whereas amongst many it will be hard, but some mediators will be found to moderate things.* And this is the reason, why the danger of civil tumults is greatest in such countries, as in which two religions only are in use. Lastly, all will be bold with them, and ready to proclaim their miscarriages to the full, and above truth.
The most count it the best and safest way in differences of religion without further question, to take the strongest part: that doing as the most do, they may have the fewest find fault with them. Such forget God who is strongest of all. But the best and safest way indeed, is to get true, and sound conscience of things certain, and without controversy. Such a person God will direct in his ways, so far, and certainly, as not to miss of the main end, life eternal; and therewith in mercy will pardon all other his human aberrations. “With mine whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments.” Psa. cxix. 10.
Men are for the most part minded for, or against toleration of diversity of religions, according to the conformity which they themselves hold, or hold not with the country, or kingdom, where they live. Protestants living in the countries of Papists commonly plead for toleration of religion: so do Papists that live where Protestants bear sway: though few of either, specially of the clergy, as they are called, would have the other tolerated, where the world goes on their side. The very same is to be observed in the ancient Fathers, in their times: of whom, such as lived in the first three hundred years after Christ, and suffered with the churches, under heathen persecutors, pleaded against all violence for religion, true or false: affirming that it is of human right and natural liberty, for every man to worship what he thinketh God:* and that it is no property of religion to compel to religion, which ought to be taken up freely; that no man is forced by the Christians against his will, seeing he that wants faith, and devotion, is unserviceable to God: and that God not being contentious, would not be worshipped of the unwilling:† whereas, on the contrary, the latter, having the emperors Christian, and on their side, incited, and pressed them to violent courses. But considering, that to tolerate is not to approve; and that the magistrates are kings, and lords over men properly, and directly, as they are their subjects, and not as they are Christ's; but that by accident, and as the same persons who are civilly their subjects, are spiritually Christ's and Christians; and lastly, considering, that neither God is pleased with unwilling worshippers, nor Christian societies bettered, nor the persons themselves neither, hut the plain contrary in all three; the saying of the wise King of Poland* seemeth approvable, that it is one of the three things which God hath kept in his own hands, to urge the conscience this way, and to cause a man to profess a religion, by working it first in his heart.
If the order in Israel be objected; it may be answered, first, that the land was holy, as no land now is; that one nation separated from all other nations to be the Lord's peculiar people, as no nation now is; the kings types and figures of Christ, as no kings now are: and secondly, that none were, in truth, compelled to the Israelitish church and religion; but being of it, whether Israelites, or proselytes, were to be “cut off from the Lord's people, and destroyed out of hand for presumptuous sins,” Num. xv. 30—36: Psa. ci. 7, 8; or working iniquity; or for “not serving God with all their heart and might,” 2 Chron. xv. 13. Kings by this course would come short of the number of subjects, in whose multitude their honour stands: and unto churches, few or none could possibly be added.
If it be further objected, that men may be by the magistrate constrained to the outward acts of justice, honesty, and the like, though destitute altogether of the inward virtues; it may be answered, that these serve properly, and immediately to preserve civil societies, of which magistrates are properly kings, and lords, and so do obtain their proper ends, if the very outward things be done, though never so unwillingly: but of religious actions the proper end is not civil society, nor is attainable but by faith, and devotion in the heart of the doers.
Lastly, to that of the Father, “that many who at first serve God by compulsion come after to serve him freely and willingly,”† I answer, that neither good intents, nor events, which are casual, can justify unreasonable violence: and withal, that by this course of compulsion many become atheists, hypocrites, and familists: and being at first constrained to practise against conscience, lose all conscience afterwards. Bags and vessels overstrained break, and will never after hold anything. Yet do I not deny all compulsion to the hearing of God's word, as the means to work religion, and common to all of all sorts, good and bad; much less excuse civil disobedience palliated with religious shows, and pretences; or condemn convenient restraint of public idolatry, so as this rule of reason holds its place, viz., that the bond between magistrate, and subject is essentially civil; but religious accidentally only, though eminently.* For conclusion of this matter, let the godly magistrate consider, that as there is no church-state and profession so truly Christian, and good, in which too many may not be found carried in their persons with a spirit plainly antichristian; so there is hardly any sect so antichristian or evil otherwise, in church profession, in which there are not divers truly, though weakly led, with the Spirit of Christ in their persons, and so true members of his mystical body. With whom to deal rigorously for some few aberrations of ignorance, or infirmity, were more to please Christ's enemy in the oppressing of the person, than Christ, in so repressing his failing in some particulars, specially if they be not fundamental.
As then the Christian magistrate hath his power of magistracy from God, which his Christianity serves to sanctify, and direct: so, undoubtedly, he is to use it for God, and his honour, and that in his true worship, in which he is specially honoured, and against the contrary; yet with these two cautions:—First, That as the greater sins of other kinds, do not so violate and dissolve the marriage-bond, as adultery doth, by reason of its direct opposition there against: so neither do idolatry, or heresy, how great sins soever in themselves, so outlaw a subject civilly, as do seditions, murders, adulteries, and the like directly violating, and disturbing civil societies. The second is, That no authority of man may bring into, or uphold in the Church either doctrine, or ordinance of religion, or person, which last is not lightly to be regarded, seeing the other two serve for it, unto which the Lord in his Word hath not first given testimony of approbation for that use: seeing magistrates are not governors against, nor besides, but under God, in their dominions.
[‡]Glasse of Spanish Cruelty.