Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XIV.: of knowledge and ignorance. - The Works of John Robinson, vol. 1
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CHAPTER XIV.: of knowledge and ignorance. - 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 knowledge and ignorance.
The first line of the repaired image of God in man, and that by which he is first united to God, is sound knowledge: the second, is the sincere love of the heart, Col. iii. 10: which draw with them in the third place, the other affections and senses of soul and body.* As the wagon is guided by the wagoner, and he by his eye: so is the body by the soul, and it, by the eye of understanding and knowledge. “If the eye be single, the whole body will be full of light.” Matt. vi. 22.
To believe a thing further than we know it, is indeed impossible; to love it, lightness; to hate it, injustice; seeing it may deserve the contrary, for aught we know.†
He that knows not in his measure, what he ought to know, especially in the matters of God, is but a beast, amongst men: he that knows what is simply needful and no more, is a man, amongst men: but he who knows, according to the helps vouchsafed him of God, what may well be known, and so far, as to direct himself and others aright, is as a god, amongst men. And to this purpose the Lord tells Moses, that he “should be to his brother Aaron, instead of God.” Exod. iv. 16. Such bear the lively image of God's wisdom.
The knowledge even of things evil is good, and the greater the better, so as it be neither experimental, nor with approbation, nor have other infections accessory joined with it. The apostle knew Satan's devices better than the Corinthians did, 2 Cor. ii. 11: and God, only wise, and good, only knows all the both good and evil of men and angels. Prov. xv. 3. And so pleasing a thing is knowledge to reasonable creatures, not immeasurably degenerated, as “the light is pleasant to him that hath eyes to behold it,” Eccles. xi. 7, that not only they who strive to attain unto it by likely means; but even many, who hold a course tending to all ignorance, and error, do desire it, as a natural good: and if not much the thing itself, yet the opinion of it, hating the imputation of ignorance, as a matter vile, and reproachful. By how much the more monstrous are many, and grown out of kind; who make reckoning, that it concerns not them to get, or have any more knowledge, than is simply necessary for the maintaining of a poor barren and half-brutish life ?
How many, especially of the meaner sort, to let pass men's secure, yea affected ignorance, in Divine things, would think it half curiosity in themselves or others of their rank, to know the east from the west; or what the reason is of the sun's setting, and rising again every day, though they see the thing continually before their eyes ? The punishment of Nebuchadnezzar is upon such people, who had an ox's heart in a man's body. Dan. iv. 25—33.
Of them that seriously desire, and carefully use means to obtain knowledge, the ends are very different. Some desire to know that they might know, which is curiosity: some that they might be known, and that is vanity: some only to make profit of their knowledge, and that is covetousness: some, on the other side, to edify, and better themselves, and this is true wisdom: and some withal, to do good to others, which is godly charity.*
The means to get knowledge, specially divine; are, First to love it: “If thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding: If thou seekest her, as silver, and searchest. for her, as for hid treasures; then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.” Prov. iii. 3, 4. The second is the knowledge of our ignorance: it being an effect of Christ's coming, “that they which see not” to wit, in the conscience of their own blindness, “might see; and that they which see, might be made blind.” John ix. 39. To which join that of the philosopher, that many more would attain to knowledge, and wisdom, if so many did not think, that they had already attained to it.† A third is the fear of God, to which he hath made the promise of revelation of his secrets, and to “teach such the way which they shall choose,” Psa. xxv.: who will also set themselves the most carefully to learn it. A fourth is prayer, by which this wisdom and knowledge, as with a strong hand, is fetched from heaven. James i. 5. A fifth is the reading and meditating upon, specially, the Divine Scriptures, and withal, other approved authors. For, as the affections are most moved by hearing, so the judgment is best informed by reading. The last means is the company and society of wise and understanding men: whereupon it was, that the Queen, of Sheba pronounced the servants of Solomon happy, which continually stood before him to hear his wisdom. They who profit not in knowledge and wisdom by conversing with wise men, are unworthy of their company; and worthy to keep, or keep with, oxen and asses.
Besides the forementioned means of getting knowledge, there is a mediocrity, and meanness of outward estate not a little advantageable to this purpose; which if it be too low, and depressed, keeps down the disposition ingenuous, and apt to great things; as his emblem imports, who holds a wing in the one hand, but hath the other clogged with a great stone.* On the other side, a state great and prosperous, usually lifts up men above the love of knowledge, and learning; making them arrogant in themselves, and fastidious of the labour and industry requisite for the getting of understanding; and often endangers the very quenching of that spark of natural desire, to become wise, which God hath kindled in all men's breasts, in bodily and beastly sensualities. Gen. iii. 6. Hereupon it was, that Plato judged the Cyrenians by reason of their prosperous estate, incapable of any good information, and constitution of a commonwealth by good laws.† “Man is in honour, and understandeth not; he is like the beasts that perish,” Psa. xlix. 12, 20: and not understanding, he perisheth like the beasts, and worse. Few of great state in the world, are humanly; fewer, divinely wise.
“The knowing to do good, and the not doing it, is sin,” James ir. 17: not because it is known, but because it is not practised: as meat undigested hurts the body, not because it is taken into the stomach, but because it is not, by concoction, turned into good nourishment.‡
Papists call ignorance the mother of devotion; and so make reckoning, that, if they, the multitude especially, be ignorant enough, they are devout enough. But the philosopher, though a heathen,§ who thought all sin to come of ignorance, shot nearer the mark, than those left-handed Christians. And in truth, where the reasonable faculties of understanding and will come to work; the will therefore wills, or nills a thing, because it is judged good or bad in the particular, by the practical understanding: whose office it is to direct the will in its choice. For example. Peter though knowing and judging it, in thesi, and in the general, better to confess Christ, than to deny him; yet, being in the high-priest's hall, and in the midst of his enemies, thought it, in that particular place and case and state of things, better to deny his Master, than to confess him: better I mean, not in regard of that good, which we call honest, and virtuous, but profitable, and commodious, for his present peace. He neither would nor could have chosen the denying of him, but as a good apparent, and in show.
Ignorance is not always blameworthy, but then only, when we are ignorant of that which we should know. Yea, not only some ignorance, but, which is more, even some error is, in a sort, commendable: as when we judge of men, whose hearts we know not, by the outward appearances which they make, though they be inwardly, and in truth, nothing less. So Philip charitably and Christianly judged Simon Magus a true believer, and accordingly baptized him; though in truth, he then was, and soon after appeared to be, “in the gall of bitterness, and bond of iniquity.” Acts viii. 13. In some other cases, ignorance, though it justify not wholly, yet excuses a failing in part; and that more or less, as the thing whereof we are ignorant, either is more or less necessary to be known of us; or can be known more or less easily: and thus “the servant that knows not his master's will, and commits things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with fewer.” Luke xii. 48. On the contrary, there is an ignorance, which both shows, and makes the ignorant culpable of greater judgment. And that is either affected or inflicted. Affected, when a man either of purpose shuts his eyes, lest he should take knowledge of the sin which he loves, and is loath to forsake; or purposely neglects the use of the means of attaining to knowledge; or doth the things, upon which ignorance cannot but follow; as in making himself drunken:* or fills the eyes of the mind with the dust of wilful prejudice and partiality. Inflicted, when God to recompense former disobedience, “gives men up to a mind void of judgment,” Rom. i. 28, in the things discernible by the very light of nature. Thus not to know, nor do the will of our master, deserves double stripes.