Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XX.: of counsel. - The Works of John Robinson, vol. 1
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CHAPTER XX.: of counsel. - 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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Counsel, by which we consider wisely, whether, what, and how things are to be done, for profitable ends,* is a sacred thing;† and withal so necessary to be taken not only with God, and a man's self, but with others also; as that Solomon, though peerless in wisdom, yet had his counsellors about him. “Without counsel people perish,” 1 kings xii. 6, and purposes are disappointed; but in the multitude of counsellors there is both safety, and stability. Prov. xi. 14; xii. 15, 20. It is God's peculiar to be all-sufficient in himself whether for wisdom, or otherwise. No one man but stands in need of another; and if for little else, yet for counsel.
He that gives counsel to another, therein stands in the place of God, Isa. ix. 6, who is the Counsellor, and whose “Mine,” counsel is and sound wisdom. Prov. viii. 14. This, he that gives advice, must well weigh, that he neither dishonour the wisdom and goodness of God, whose place for the dispensing of these attributes, he sustains therein; nor wrong him, by whom he is so far honoured, as to be sought to, as God's mouth. And so must he also that takes counsel; that he may neither seek it at fools, which none but fools will do; nor at godless persons, specially in matter of conscience, which he that doth, desires to deceive himself, and to mock with God. Now of all counsellors, in whom any wisdom and goodness is to be found, the peremptory and bold are most dangerous, whose custom is to put men upon extremities, happily fitting their own. venturesome disposition, but often above the strain, and strength of their friends or reach of reason either. Whereas counsellors, specially in more difficult and dangerous cases, should both very sensibly apprehend the difficulty and danger of the thing in deliberation; and withal be careful, that they spur not on their friends whom they advise, above their pace, lest they tire them by preposterous enforcements, and put them upon such difficulties, as they are not fit to struggle with. Wariness is best in advice; and boldness in execution.
Dead men, to wit, in their books, were accounted by King Alphonsus, for the best counsellors.* And indeed so are they in regard of one of the best properties of a good counsellor, which is sincerity, and unpartialness. A virtue rare, specially in inferiors, who too oft look asquint in their counsel: as either casting how to advantage themselves in counselling others, or in following the direction of Ahab's messengers to Micaiah, by speaking that which is good to, rather than for, the king. 1 Kings xxii. 13. Which latter calamity befalls great men not only by base perfidiousness of flatterers, but often by a just judgment of God punishing them with their own desires, and so ordering, that they that seek shall find such as may rather deceive them by flattery, than trouble them with the truth. Yet in these dead counsellors, books, there is wanting a lively, and likely discerning of such particular circumstances, as must be observed, and gathered by present discourse, that men counsel not at adventure; which no books can sufficiently provide for. In books we best learn general grounds of direction; but that skill is imperfect, and must have joined with it a large and piercing discourse of the counsellor's mind, who by comparing together things past and present, with due respect to singular circumstances incident, is able probably to gather things to come; in which the life of counsel consists.
Some will eloquently propound, and earnestly persuade to good and profitable courses in general; but in the meanwhile, give no direction, how or by what particular means to prosecute them, for the attaining to the desired end. Such counsellors are like him that is earnest in persuading with a traveller to hold the right way to the place, where he would be; but shows him not which it is, and what are the marks of it: or to him, who trims the lamp diligently, and sets it to burn, but pours no oil into it.* As we understand even most necessary things in vain, except we love them: so blind love, which alone in effect, the bellows of loud, but windy persuasion kindles in the breasts of many, avails nothing, where knowledge guides us not in our way.†
The fewest of them that ask good counsel, do mean indeed to follow it. Some ask counsel only in good manners, and to make show of respect to friends. Jer. xlii. 2—6; Ezek. xiv. 4—7. Others for a colour, that they did nothing, but having first heard, what such, and such, it may be, wise and godly, could say about it. And not a few, though they pretend to ask, yet indeed intend rather to give counsel; that is, to have the courses allowed by others, which they themselves affect. A man may have divers ends, in requiring the advice of others, and all of them honest, and lawful; provided he always keep his heart free to receive either information, or confirmation, or reformation from others, upon good ground.
Three sorts of men, though standing most in need of counsel, are many of them most incapable of it. First, they in great prosperity; secondly, they in extreme affliction; and thirdly, such as are weak and simple. They of the first sort are, for the most part, high-minded, and lifted up in themselves, Nabal-like, above the good counsel of other men, presuming, that they are able enough to direct themselves. 1 Sam. xxv. 10, 11. The second, are commonly either obdurate, or melted in their misery; like wax, either too hard to receive, or too soft to retain any impression; as the “Israelites for anguish of spirit, hearkened not unto Moses,” Exod. vi. 9, the messenger of their deliverance. The third, are partly incapable of advice, through simpleness; and partly suspicious, either lest they should be circumvented by their friends close minding their own ends, or else thought weak, and too simple to govern, and manage their own affairs: by which prejudice it comes to pass, many times, that they become wilful and heady; because they would not be thought simple and unable to direct themselves.
It is a rule, wherein many wise men have agreed, that it is more available for the commonwealth to have an evil prince and good counsellors, than a prince good and virtuous, with corrupt counsellors about him; for that, it is more like, that one should be bettered by many, than many be corrupted by one. But the mischief is, that such as are naught themselves will make choice usually of such counsellors as themselves are, rather to flatter, than better them: as contrariwise, the good, commonly, will choose such, as may further them in goodness.
When a thing very inconvenient and absurd is propounded to us, it is not best, always, to manifest any great dislike, though we both have it in ourselves, and our reasons for it, never so present: except either urgent necessity press a sudden and violent stop of the matter; or that we have to do with him, whom we know we can oversway, by our reasons, and authority: lest by that course our friend take occasion to withdraw himself, and to conceal his affairs from us, and so to steal misery closely, and, it may be, suddenly also, if he be bent upon his course, for fear that our importunity should bring hindrance to his purpose. But it is best, at first, to put off the thing, and to provoke to further consideration, and so to gain time, with some small manifestation of dislike for the present; thereby, as it were, pointing, and making way for our after more vehement dissuasions. By which course we shall have our friend's both ear and heart more open to receive advice from us; as conceiving, that we neither are forward to cross his design, nor carried against him or it, in passion, contempt, or unadvisedness.