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CHAPTER VIII.: of the holy scriptures. - 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 the holy scriptures.
The holy Scriptures are that Divine instrument, and means, by which we are taught to believe what we ought, touching God, and ourselves, and all creatures; and how to please God in all things, unto eternal life. I speak of believing things, seeing faith comes by hearing: for else, we know things touching God by that which we see, feel, and discern, in and by his works. “We are led to the knowledge of God in his power, wisdom, goodness, justice, and mercy, by his works both without, and within us; and whensoever God either doth, or suffers a thing to be done, though not so much as insinuated formerly in his Word, we then know it to be his will, that such a thing should be, as certainly, as if he had expressly revealed it before in the Scriptures. I speak of pleasing God in all things; first, because entire obedience, so far as human frailty will permit, is the immediate end, and use of the word of God; and the way, and means to salvation: secondly, to meet with that dangerous presumption of doing that, which is necessary to salvation, as many use to speak, though with affected ignorance of, and apparent disobedience to many of God's commandments. Who knoweth with how little God can, and doth save many, being faithful in learning what they can, and in observing what they know? Though much more be necessary to such as have means to know more. And thirdly because it is no child-like, but a bastardly disposition, to take care for serving God no further, though, alas, all be little enough for that, than to be sure of the Father's inheritance. The heart of a man is then assured before God, and hath a warrant from heaven against eternal confusion, when he can say, with good conscience, that he “hath respect to all God's commandments.” Psa. cxix. 6.
God would have his will written, that is, his Word to become Scripture, partly for more certainty of truth to men, and to preserve it the better from being corrupted; as all make account, that things set down in black and white, as they speak, are most firm: partly, for accord, and unity of churches, and Christians in the same truth; who, if they differ so much, notwithstanding they use the same rule, what would they do, if their rules were different, or uncertain ? and partly, for more community; seeing books and writings may both easily be dispersed whither the voice of teachers cannot come, and also be read in private by Christians, when they are apart from their teachers.
Neither all things which the prophets of God wrote, were written by Divine inspiration, but some of them humanly, as their human affairs, common to them with other men, required: neither was all wherein they were divinely inspired, brought into the public treasury of the church, or made part of the canonical Scriptures, which we call the Bible;* no more than all which they spake, was spoken by the Spirit; or all which they spake by the Spirit, written, John xx. 31; xxi. 25: but only so much, as the Lord in wisdom, and mercy, thought requisite to guide the church in faith and obedience, to the world's end: so as the Scriptures should neither be defective through brevity, nor burthensome by too great largeness, and prolixity. And thus to judge is more answerable both to God's providence in preserving the Scriptures from miscarrying; and to the Church's care, and faithfulness in keeping safe this heavenly treasure committed to her custody; than to say with some, that any of the books, or parts of the canonical Scriptures are lost.
It no more detracts from the authentic authority, or general use of some parts of the Holy Scriptures, that they were penned upon some special occasions, than of the sermons of Christ, the prophets, and apostles, that some of them were preached upon special occasions. And surely, it seems a strange conceit, that the authority of the writing should be the less, because the thing written was suggested by the Holy Ghost, and so penned, upon special occasion offered: as such Scriptures were.
The Scriptures are not only authentic in themselves, as having the Spirit of God for the author both of matter, and manner, and writing, 2 Pet. i. 21; but do also, as they say, carry their authority in their mouths, binding both to credence, and obedience, all whomsoever, unto whom they come, and by what means soever. And if God “left not himself without witness,” Acts xiv. 17, in his works of creation, and providence; how much less in his written Word ? wherein, without comparison, he reveals himself much more clearly, than the other way: which is therefore discernible by itself, as is the sun by its own beams, and light; and which, as one saith, he that studies to understand, shall be compelled to believe.* Their assertion, therefore, who hold, and teach, that we are to receive the Scriptures for the churches' testimony, because usually, as others more truly and religiously speak, we receive them by its testimony,† is in effect none other, than that we are to believe God for men's cause: whereas, on the contrary, if a man should find the book of the Holy Scriptures in the highway, or hidden under a stone; yet he were bound to learn, receive, believe, and obey them, and every part of them, in his place, though without, yea against the liking and approbation of all the men in the world: except God must not be God without men's liking.‡ And if the word preached by Christ, the prophets, and apostles, in their time, whether to Jews, or Gentiles, were absolutely to be believed, and obeyed, by every one that heard it, without other, or further testimony; why not as well, and much, now, by all that read it written ? “He that receives the testimony” of Christ for itself, whether exhibited in speech, or writing, “sets to his seal that God is true,” John iii. 33: he that receives it for the testimony of the Church, sets to his seal, that men are true. But the child of God knows his Father's voice.§
The profit and power of the Scriptures, both for stay of faith, and rule of life, and comfort in all manner of afflictions, no tongue or pen is able so fully to express, as every true Christian finds, and feels, in his own experience. There is but one true happiness, life eternal; one giver of it, God; one Mediator, Jesus Christ; and so but one means of imparting it, the word of God: by which, he that is both author and finisher of all, both begins, and perfects all. “Blessed is the man, that hath his delight therein, and meditates in the same, day and night,” Psa. i. 1,2: that so he may learn the things upon earth, the knowledge whereof will fit him for heaven.*
When we avow the Scriptures' perfection, we exclude not from men common sense, and the light of nature, by which we are, both subjects capable of understanding them, and directed in sundry manners of doing the things commanded in them: yea, besides other human helps, we both acknowledge, and beg of God as most needful for their fruitful understanding, the light of his Holy Spirit: only we account, and avow them as a most perfect rule neither crooked any way, nor short in anything requisite. This their sufficiency and perfection is not to be restrained to matters simply necessary to salvation: for who can say, how many, or few, and no more, nor less, they are ? But to matters necessary to obedience, that we may please God in all things, great, or small; expressed, or intended, and to be gathered by proportion, and just consequence. 1 Thess. iv., 1. “Without faith we cannot please God,” Heb. xi. 6; and “Faith comes only by the word of God,” Rom. x. 17; which we must therefore make our guide in “all our ways.” Prov. iii. 6. And if we be to “give an account of every idle word,” Matt. xii. 36, and so for every vain thought, or work, there is then a law of God for these smallest matters; for where no law is, there is no transgression; and where there is no transgression, or fault,'there is no account to be given. But as philosophers say, that the least natural things are not sensible, by reason of their smallness; so may, and doth it too easily fall out, that we fail through want of skill or care in applying our rule of direction, both in smaller matters, and others of greater moment also. But this is not because the Scriptures are defective in directing; but we either blind in discerning, or negligent in searching, or both. And if the holy Scriptures' direction reach unto the whole course of our life, how much more of our religion, or worship of God ? in which nothing is to be practised, but that which is to be believed; nothing to be believed, but that which is to be taught; nothing to be taught, but according to the Scriptures. This being the first thing that we are to believe, that we must believe nothing, but according to them.* All things else are human; and human it is to err, and be deceived. The custom of the Church is but the custom of men: the sentence of the fathers but the opinion of men: the determinations of councils but the judgments of men.† To conclude, one only place of holy Scriptures rightly understood, and fitly applied, will have more power, and fasten deeper upon a truly good, and godly heart; than all the consenting authorities of men, and angels, though uttered with the tongue of men, and angels.
As the title set over the head of Christ crucified, was the same in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, so are the Scriptures the same, whether in the original, or other language into which they are faithfully translated. Yet, as the waters are most pure, and sweet in the fountain, so are all writings, Divine and human, in their original tongues; it being impossible, but some either change, or defect, or redundancy will be found in the translation, either by default of the translator, or of the tongue, into which it is made.
In a translator is required, specially, skill in words, and tongues; in an expositor, judgment in things. That translation is most exact, which agreeth best with the original, word for word, so far as the idiom, or propriety of the language will bear: so as for words, or phrases, in the original, proper or common: simple, or figurative; perspicuous, or doubtful; words and phrases of the same sort, proper or common, and so of the rest, be put, and retained in the version: lest the interpreter bring his own commentary for the Scripture text. On the contrary, the commentary is best, which shows most clearly the sense, scope, and meaning of the text, in what words soever.
As the law-maker best knows the meaning of the law, and how it is to be expounded, so for the exposition of the holy Scriptures, the Spirit of God, as the author thereof is first and most to be consulted with, by faithful and earnest prayer, from a good conscience, that God may fulfil his promise made of “giving his Holy Spirit to them that ask it,” Luke xi. 13, and of “revealing his secrets to them that fear him.” Psa. xxv. 14. And so some special instruments of renewing the gospel's light in the former age, have professed, that they learned more this way by prayer, than by much study otherwise.*
There is in Scripture but one proper, and immediate sense; others are rather collections from it, relations unto it, or illustrations of it, than immediate senses. The literal sense is to be followed, as being most natural, what may be, and not to be refused, if it may stand without danger, without blasphemy, and according to other Scriptures .† And here it must be noted, that Christ, and his apostles in expounding Moses and the prophets, did not only infallibly express their conceptions and meanings, but the meaning of the Spirit speaking in them; and that, by reason of their more plentiful measure of the same Spirit and experience withal, in some particulars, as I conceive, further than the prophets themselves understood: albeit they always knew the immediate drift of the spirit and meaning of the things, which they spake, and were not as the Pythonists, or other the like instruments of the devil, uttering oracles which they themselves understood not.
The lawyers have a rule, and the same competent to the matter whereof they treat, that laws of favour are to be extended, as largely as may be: but odious laws, as they speak, as much straitened and confined within the narrowest bounds of interpretation. But all God's laws and instructions must, in honour of the lawgiver, be expounded in the largest sense that they can bear: that so they may reach as far, and bind as fast, as may be. This the infiniteness of his wisdom challengeth, in directing us; of his authority, in commanding us; of his mercy, in promising; and justice, in threatening: which, by so interpreting, and applying his Word, we acknowledge, and honour, as is meet. And as they are blame-worthy, who out of a scrupulous fear, lest they should add to the Scriptures, allow them no further meaning, than the words express; so is their sin greater, and full of presumption, who shorten and straiten the Scriptures' instruction to that which is expressed in so many words, that they may make room thereby, for their own devices. A scripture commandeth, promiseth, or threateneth whatsoever is contained in it, though not expressed; and that is contained in it, which can truly and justly be gathered from it, though by never so many consequences, or inferences; though the fewer the less dangerous, by reason of our weakness of discourse.
Particular words and phrases, more obscure, are to be interpreted according to the scope and mind of the speaker, the Holy Ghost, in the place, which is, both in time, and excellency, before the thing spoken,* and that for which the Spirit speaketh as it doth in the place: neither is the scripture profitable, except the scope be first found.† And to hang upon a word, phrase,' or sentence in a text, without looking to the main drift, is, if any other, the character of an heretical disposition. With this, that other most necessary rule hath affinity; namely, that the words are to be understood according to the subject matter:‡ the words of law and gospel according to the different nature of law and gospel; the words of an history, historically; of a sacrament, sacramentally and mystically; and, accordingly, notes of universality, according to the extent of the matter, or person spoken of.
As we oft find out, and learn men's meaning by some of their company, and of such as are about them, which we could not learn of themselves, so may we gather the meaning of a scripture, otherwise hard to be understood, by marking the things which accompany it, and which are above and below, as the Jews used to speak, and Christians with them.§
Like as the lamps in the golden candlestick did one help another's light; so doth one place of holy scripture, another's. And though a thing found in one place, if in one indeed, be as true, and bind as strongly, as if it were a thousand times written; yet so to insist upon any one place, in a difference, as to neglect others, is the highway to error, and to lose the right sense, by breaking the scripture's golden chain, whose links are all fastened together|| And as one place must be expounded by another; so must the more brief and obscure by the more plain, and large, and not the contrary, and cross way: for that were not to lighten the darkness of a text, but to darken its light: according to that of the father:—The fewer must be understood according to the more; and one saying must rather be taken according to all, than against all.*
Touching precepts affirmative, and negative, first, they are usually either kept, or broken together. He who doth not what he should do, commonly doth what he should not do; if a man be “drawn away” from God, he is easily “ensnared by his own lust,” James i. 14. On the contrary, he that doth his duty faithfully, hath as it were, a supersedes from the Lord, against the temptations of sin, and Satan. The way not to “fulfil the lusts of the flesh is to walk in the Spirit.” Gal. v. 16. Secondly, the received rule, that affirmative precepts bind always, but not to always, as negatives do, is true, being rightly understood. We are to take no time for doing evil, and but some time for the doing of the best good, to wit, as we have opportunity, and ability. Gal. vi. 10. Thirdly, in the prohibition of an evil we must ever understand the command of the opposite virtue; and so on the contrary. He that saith expressly “Thou shalt not kill,” means also, as well, Thou shalt preserve thy neighbour's life. Lastly, There is both more virtue, and more vice practised in affirmatives, than in negatives. It is more good, to do good, than not to do evil: and more evil, to do evil, than not to do good; though both the tree that brings forth evil fruit, and that brings forth no fruit, shall be cut down, and cast into the fire.
The oppositions intended in Scriptures are diligently to be observed, upon mistaking whereof error followeth; upon neglect, maimed obedience. For example: the apostle in teaching that there is but “one God the Father, and one Lord Jesus Christ,” 1 Cor. viii. 4—6; doth not oppose the Father to the Son; nor the Son to the Father, for either is God, either Lord: but both to all, whether creatures, or idols. So where Christ bids his apostles “baptize them that believe,” he doth not exclude their in fants; but such as believe not the gospel being preached unto them. Matt, xxviii. 19; Mark xvi. 16. Likewise, where Paul saith of the incestuous man, that he was “rebuked of many;” he opposeth not many to all, as some conceive, but to one, viz. himself. 2 Cor. ii. 6.
Lastly, he that will expound the Scriptures, ought in honour of the graces of God bestowed upon other men, and in conscience of his own infirmity, with the holy use of other means, to join the reading and searching of the commentaries and expositions of such special instruments, as God in mercy hath raised up for the opening of them, and edifying the church thereby: remembering always, that” the word of God neither came from him, nor to him alone.” 1 Cor. xiv. 36. He that depends too much upon other men's judgment, makes as if the word of God came not to himself at all: he that neglects it, as if it came to him only. Of which two evils the latter is so much the worse, as arrogancy in a man's self is more odious both to God, and men, than either slackness in examining, or dulness in discerning, or excessive fear of departing from the opinion, specially received, of others.
It is strange, and lamentable, that, in the great profession of the Scriptures made in our days, so many should be ignorant of the difference between the law, and the gospel, of which two heads the Scriptures consist: making the gospel nothing else, but a more favourable, and easy law, and thereby transforming grace into nature; a promise to be received, into a commandment to be fulfilled: and the offering of new life, even the life of Christ, into the exacting of old, and due debt only. Gal. ii. 20. God, as an absolute Lord, gives his holy law, saying, “Do this and live:” and therein properly exacts obedience, as a natural debt, of the reasonable creature, thereunto enabled by creation: but as a gracious Father publisheth the gospel, in it offering help to the miserable and helpless creature, and working withal, according to the election of grace, power, and will to receive the help, and hand offered. This if many considered, as they ought, they would not, as they do, plead the power of man's free-will in spiritual things, against the free grace of God; nor exclude, as some of them do, the infants of believers from the covenant, and baptism of the church: as though God could not show grace, because they cannot show free-will to receive it.
The utmost ordinary means of revelation of God's will for man's salvation and happiness, is the gospel. When the law written in man's heart by creation was almost worn out, God gave it written in tables of stone. But life, and freedom from sin, and death, being “impossible to the law in that it was weak, through the flesh,” Bom. viii. 3; and all men by it, whether considered as written in tables of stone, or of the heart, by creation, “coming short of the glory of God,” Rom. iii. 23; it hath pleased the same God by the gospel of his Son Christ to provide a gracious remedy, that the sick to death, by the justice of the law might be cured; yea the dead revived, by the grace of the gospel, and mercy of God therein. And other remedy besides, and beyond this, for the obtaining of salvation, God hath not revealed. He that fulfils not the righteousness of the law, violates God's justice: but remaining obstinate.against the grace of the gospel also, he despises, with God's justice, his mercy; and his authority in both. And what remains for such, but a fearful expectation of the work of his terrible power, of “the revelation of his wrath from heaven against all, specially such, ungodliness of men “? Rom. i. 8. “For if the word “(of the law) “spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward: how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation” (of the gospel); “which, at first, began to be preached by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by them that heard him?” Heb. ii. 2, 3.