Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER IX.: of authority and Reason. - The Works of John Robinson, vol. 1
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CHAPTER IX.: of authority and Reason. - 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 authority and Reason.
Authority leads us to the author of a thing, and bids us rest in his word, whether for credence to his relation, or obedience to his commandment. Reason wills us to look to the thing itself, and to the arguments for or against it, taken either from common sense, or natural principles, and conclusions, or other undoubted grounds of truth, or goodness of matter. The ground in authority is, in a sort, personal; in reason, real. It is a kind of impeachment of authority, to examine the reasons of things: so is it a prejudice to reason's work to call authority to counsel, save only when God speaks; for then the authority justifies the reason; and reason bids receive the authority, and do all things commanded without reasonings. Phil. ii. 14.
The authority and credit of him that relates a matter, whether man, or angel, yea or God himself, makes it not the truer in itself, but the more readily to be believed by them that hear it. The testimony of God in his Word, that in the beginning he made the world of nothing, and will judge men and angels at that day by Jesus Christ, is only therefore true in itself, because God indeed hath done the one, and will do the other; but is therefore by us to be believed as true, because he so testifies in his Word.
Divine authority is to sway with us above all reason: yea reason teacheth, that God is both to be believed, and obeyed in the things for which man can see no reason. And hence it is, that the Lord hath so severely punished men's transgressing his laws of ceremonies, and Divine institutions, called by the schoolmen, voluntary precepts; for that in commanding of them God's absolute authority most clearly appears, and man's pure obedience in observing them. 1 Sam. vi. 19; 2 Sam. vi. 6—8; 2 Chron. xxvi. 18, 19. Human authority hath more or less weight, according to the worth of the person, or other circumstances; but as the monies of all men, I high and low, good and bad, are alike; so are the reasons. The meanest man's reason, specially in matter of faith, and obedience to God, is to be preferred before all authority of all men.,1 say, specially of faith; yet not excluding other subjects. For though I will and ought to do some” things, simply because I am commanded; yet I will not therefore simply believe that anything is good in itself. And albeit I am bound to obey human authority in sundry things, for the commanding of which I know no reason, yea know there is no reason; yet know I reason for mine obedience, even the honour of authority, and preservation of peace. The thing commanded may be unjust, and evil in him that commands, and yet good in me, obeying his authority in it. For example: a matter of outward wrong to me commanded by the magistrate; in the doing whereof I sustain damage, but sin not.
God who made two great lights for the bodily eye, hath also made two lights for the eye of the mind; the one, the Scriptures, for her supernatural light; and the other reason, for her natural light. And indeed only those two are a man's own: and so is not the authority of other men. The Scriptures are as well mine, as any other man's; and so is reason as far as I can attain to it. But the authority of others is not mine, but theirs: which when I use, I borrow, and lay to pawn unto them, whom I cannot satisfy, or secure by the other means, which are mine own. Who would borrow of others that hath enough of his own to satisfy as well?
God, who, though he be absolute Lord, so often annexeth reasons to his precepts, teacheth even the most powerful and mighty upon the earth, in their governments, to prefer reason before authority. And the man that would not rather rule men by reason, yea, beasts, if they were capable thereof, than by violent authority, is himself inhuman, and beast-like,
The authority of God's Word and testimony is always the same, as being grounded upon his unchangeable verity: but the credit of men's judgments is less, or more according to variety of circumstances. Men deserve most credit in the faculty wherein they have been most exercised; for none can judge so well of the craft, as the craftsman.* So, more likely it is, that a man wise, learned, and studious in the Scriptures, especially, if withal, he be such a one, as unto whom God hath promised, in ordinary course, as unto one that fears him, to reveal his secrets, should find the truth, than one flighty, illiterate, and of more shallow meditations. In former ages the devil hath so far prevailed, as that men in superstitious reverence, have, as it were, pinned their faith and religion upon the sleeves of the Church's authority, and clergy's learning; putting out, or winking with, their own eyes, that their guides might lead them: and this blindfold devotion is yet affected by too many. But withal, there want not, specially in places of liberty, whose minds Satan hath so far possessed with the contrary delusion, as they think it half popery, so much as to seek counsel and direction at men of learning and knowledge; lest, forsooth, they should be deceived by them. This suspicion hath been and is, too much occasioned by the abuse of learning to covetouisness, and ambition in the learned: but is taken and held up by the other, partly by unbelief, whilst they more fear the devil's subtlety in deceiving them by learned men, especially being in any measure conscionable, than they trust to the blessing of God upon his own gifts in them for their information; partly, from conceitedness in themselves, as if they were indeed very popes, and exempted from danger of erring; and partly, through partial affection to their preconceived opinions, of which they are as loath to hear any ill, as fond parents are to hear ill of their children, though there be never so much cause, lest thereby they should be brought out of love with them. But as we are more to desire, and endeavour that we ourselves may walk in the ways of God, than others; so should we rather desire and more endeavour, as we have occasion, to converse with men of knowledge, and such as may inform us, than with them that know less than ourselves, and do depend upon us for information. And to conclude; as learning makes the good better, and the bad worse: so is it more likely, that a man should be bettered by it, than not; and that knowing what concerns him, he will be the more ashamed of the contrary.*
It is also more probable, that many, specially wise, and godly, should find the truth, than one, as many eyes see more than one: whereupon it was that the very apostles in some cases of practice sought or took the advice of others; which help, our dulness makes much more necessary for us. Acts xxi. 24—26.
Into this account we must also bring the advantage of ages and times in which men live: and so more credit in matters controverted between Rome and us, is to be given to the churches, and fathers of that first ago after Christ, than of the latter, when the mystery of iniquity, rising by degrees, had gotten too great, both height and breadth.
Besides, the occasions offered have their weight in these balances. Austin is observed, by the occasion of the error of Pelagius, to have examined more diligently, and more exactly discerned, and in presser† terms to have propounded the truth, in the points of predestination, and free will, than others, his ancients. Many are ignorant, yea mistake, specially in smaller matters, not properly because they want either skill, or will to find out the truth in them, but occasion only pressing them to examine things received by tradition, or done of custom without ground of reason.
With these also we must join the consideration of such advantages, as the latter times have of the former, whose helpful labours they enjoy: by which those which follow them, though in themselves meaner than they, are enabled to discern of many things, better than the other that went before them; as a dwarf set upon the shoulders of a giant can see further than he.
Lastly, it is more likely, that of two, in any measure alike otherwise, he who suffers affliction for conscience of God, should have the truth, than he that gets worldly benefit by his course in religion; specially if he have not in a great measure learned to deny himself, and this world: it being their guise to dissemble herein, who love lucre, and riches: as too many do.*
The credit commending a testimony to others cannot be greater than is the authority in itself of him that gives it; nor his authority greater than his person. The person, then, being but a man, the authority can be but human, and so the faith but human, which it can challenge. The custom of the Church is but the custom of men; the sentence of the fathers but the opinion of men: the determination of councils but the judgments of men,† what men soever. And so, if all the men in the world, not immediately directed, as were extraordinary prophets, and apostles, in whom the Spirit spake, and testified by them, should consent in one, as they, notwithstanding their multitude, were but men, though many, so was their testimony but human, though of many men; neither could it challenge any other than human assent unto it: and not that, neither absolutely, either in matters of discourse of reason, wherein it is possible that men should deceive themselves; or of relation from others, by whom they may be deceived. We are therefore to beware, that we neither wrong ourselves by credulity; nor others by unjust suspicion. To receive without examination men's sayings, is to make of men, God: to reject them lightly, is to make of men, devils;* or fools, at the best. The latter hath pride and uncharitableness for the ground: the former either argues men to be simple, which cannot; or idle, which will not; or presumptuous, which think they need not; or superstitious, which dare not judge; or, which is worst of all the rest, desirous in a kind of humble hypocrisy to shelter an evil conscience before God under the shadow of great men's authority.
To press immoderately men's authority in Divine things, is to wrong God's, which alone is authentic; and whose will, and it alone, and all it, so far as is fit for us to know it, we know more certainly to be contained, and preserved, without corruption, in the Scriptures, than any father's opinion in the books which go under his name. This also wrongs men's faith, and reason, captivating them by prejudice; and rather offering a hand to lead the blind, than a light for the help of him that hath eyes to see with. I have known some, who, if they light upon a peremptory author, and bold asserter of things, were ready to be still of the same opinion with the book which they last read, their weaker judgment being overborne, rather by the strength of other men's asseverations, than reasons. Lastly, this engenders endless contentions: as is to be seen in some learned men's writings, in which there is more ado about the meaning of such or such a place in a father, than were enough to determine the whole controversy by the Scriptures and good reason.
These things notwithstanding, there is both a lawful, and convenient use of human testimony, even in Divine things; as first, for the convincing of such thereby, as regard it too much, and God's word too little. Thus Paul amongst heathens, even in his very sermons, alleged heathenish poets, and philosophers; and we in our writings rightly allege fathers, and councils against papists, and others, who more regard the sayings of an ancient father, or canon of a council, than the written word of the Ancient of Days. They are twice overcome, who are beaten with their own weapons, in which they trust. Secondly, it iuduceth a moral probability, though no absolute necessity of truth: and though we see not the truth by other men's eyes, but by our own, yet may we be something held up in the arms of their testimony to see it the better, and so be helped, as Zaccheus was, by the tree, into which he climbed, to see Christ. So the apostles in penning some parts of Holy Scripture, upon occasion of differences in the churches, and opposition to their apostolical authority, took in, for the better passage with men, of God's undoubted truth, the concurring testimony, even of ordinary Christians: though both the decrees and epistles were penned by infallible and immediate direction of the Holy Ghost, as well, and as much, as any other parts of canonical Scriptures. Acts xv. 23, 29; Gal. i. 2. Thirdly, citation of human authority helps to wipe away the aspersion of schism, and singularity, when we can show that our assertions and practices have agreement with such as are in account in the churches. Lastly, it commends both a man's modesty, and diligence, when he inquires after, and withal, his cause, in the eyes of men, when he appears to know the judgments of others in the things he handles: as it is, on the other side, an imputation to him that knows them not; and that even where it is otherwise, no benefit, to know them.
The authority of him that prescribeth, or commandeth, within his limits, is the same, whether the matter be great, or small. God is God, in the smallest things, which he requires; and man but man, in his deepest charges. The prophets, and apostles in their writings are extraordinary, and pastors and teachers, ordinary ministers; and neither are either more or less in any part of their ministry, for the instruction of the churches. So likewise all true reasons are of the same force in themselves, to confirm that for which they are brought: neither is any one stronger than other, but only more evident. The best but proves of itself the things to be so; and the meanest, if found, doth as much.