Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VIII.: OF THE EXERCISE OF PROPHECY. - The Works of John Robinson, vol. 3
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CHAPTER VIII.: OF THE EXERCISE OF PROPHECY. - John Robinson, The Works of John Robinson, vol. 3 
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. 3.
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 EXERCISE OF PROPHECY.
There are they, whose names I forbear, for their credit's sake, who have not spared, and that in their public writings, to lay to our charge, that we will needs have all and every member of the church, a prophet, and to prophesy publicly. With what minds they let loose their tongues to utter these, and many more most false and absurd vituperies against us, we leave it to God to judge, who knoweth: with what conscience, and desert of credit therein, unto thee, Christian reader, into whose hands this our Apology shall come.
We learn from the apostle Paul, 1 Cor. xiv. 3, that “he who prophesieth, speaketh unto men to edification, exhortation, and comfort:” which to perform conveniently, and as becomes the church assembly, we make account comes within the compass but of a few of the multitude; happily two or three in each of our churches, considering their weak and depressed state. Touching prophecy then we think the very same, that the synod held at Embden, 1571, hath decreed in these words: “1. In in all churches, whether but springing up, or grown to some ripeness, let the order of prophecy be observed, according to Paul's institution. 2. Into the fellowship of this work are to be admitted not only the ministers, but the teachers too, as also the elders and deacons, yea, even of the multitude, which are willing to confer their gift received of God, to the common utility of the church: but so as they first be allowed by the judgment of the ministers, and others.”* And as the apostle sometimes said, “We believe, and therefore we speak,” 2 Cor. iv. 13, so because we believe with the Belgic churches, that this exercise is to be observed in all congregations, therefore we also observe it in ours. Of this our both faith and practice, we have these amongst other special foundations.
The first we fetch from examples in the Jewish church, where liberty both for teaching and disputing publicly both, in the temple and synagogue, was freely given to all gifted accordingly, without respect had to any office. Luke ii. 46, 47; iv. 15, 16; Acts viii, 4, 11, 19–21; xiii. 14–16; xviii. 24–26.
If any object, that the examples of Christ and the apostles in this case, are incompetent, seeing that Christ was furnished with his own, and the apostles with his authority; he allegeth that which is true in itself, but to small purpose, considering we lay not our foundation in this, that Christ and his apostles so did; but in that liberty so to do was always had, in all places granted, and sometimes offered them. This liberty they obtained not by the authority of Christ, which the rulers of the synagogues and temple no more acknowledged than they did Christ himself: but by the order then received, and still continued to this day amongst the Jews, that they whom, with the Scriptures, they call “wise men,” Jer. xviii. 18; Matt.xxiii. 34; 1 Cor. i. 20, without all regard of public office, having any word of exhortation to the people, should “say on,” as we have it written, Acts xiii. 23. Whereunto I add, that divers of them, in whom we instance, were furnished with no such authority specially from Christ.
The second we take from the apostle Paul, 1 Cor. xiv., where to the full he informeth the church at Corinth of the order of that exercise, which they had formerly violated. Which whole order, according to Beza on 1 Cor. xiv., is apparently taken from the received custom in the Jewish synagogues. Which custom, saith Peter Martyr on 1 Cor. xiv. 31, seeing it was of old both good and laudable in the synagogues of the Jews, the apostle disdains not to transfer it to the Church of Christ, of which also he renders this reason, because it was not a legal ceremony, but serves to the edification of the church. If this be so, then must they needs take their marks amiss, who imagine that the apostle in this place speaks of the extraordinary gift and exercise of prophecy. And although it be not like, that the Church of Corinth was, in that so plenteous effusion of the gifts of the Spirit, altogether destitute of extraordinary prophets, yet that the apostle did not in that place aim at them, may be proved by many more, and the same, as I think, firm arguments drawn from the selfsame text. Which that I may do the more commodiously, the prudent reader must call to mind, that upon the foundation of the extraordinary prophets, as well as of the very apostles, the church is built, Eph. ii. 20; and that that mystery of Christ, by the Spirit immediately and infallibly enlightening their mind, was in the same manner, though not in all the same degree, revealed to them, and the other. Eph. iii. 4, 5.
This so considered, 1. It seems altogether improbable, that so many prophets of this rank, although inferior in gifts, should have been found in that one small congregation, as the apostle insinuates, ver. 24, 29, 31, that Corinth had.
2. The prophets in Corinth not only behaved themselves inordinately in the church, but withal, as by interpreters from ver. 29 and 32, is generally delivered, were subject to error in the very doctrine which they propounded; which to affirm of the extraordinary prophets, those skilful master builders, who together with the apostles laid the foundation, together participated the same holy Spirit, seemeth not a little to shake the foundation of the Christian religion. And if one of these extraordinary prophets might err, why not they all? And if the prophets, why not the apostles? And if they might err, how should it appear, that they have not erred? And so by consequence, what either then was, or now is, the firmness and certainty of the Christian faith?
3. Seeing that the apostle, ver. 34, 35, enjoins women deep silence in this church exercise, not permitting them at all to speak; it seems most plain that he hath no eye, nor respect at all, to those extraordinary gifts and endowments of prophecy authorising even women furnished with them, to speak publicly, and in men's presence, as appears in Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, Anna, as also even in Jezebel herself in regard of order, and others. Exod. xv. 21; Judges v. 1; 2 Kings xxii. 14; Luke ii. 36; Rev. ii. 20.
Lastly, The apostle, ver. 36, upbraideth those very prophets unto whom he directeth his speech, as such as from whom the Word of God came not: but without cause, yea, not without notable injury, if they were extraordinary prophets, that is, inspired with the Holy Ghost, and his immediate instruments: seeing that from these kind of prophets, as well as from Paul the apostle, the Word of God came, though in a different degree and measure.
The third foundation of this exercise is laid in the manifold, and the same most excellent ends attainable only by this means. 1. That” God may be glorified, whilst every one doth administer to another the gift which he hath received, as good dispensers of the manifold grace of God.” 1 Pet. iv. 10, 11. 2. That” the Spirit be not extinguished,” 1 Thess. v. 19, 20, that is, the gift of prophecy, or teaching; in which it may so come to pass, that some in the church, though no ministers, may excel the very pastors themselves. 3 That such as are to be taken into the ministry of the church, may both become and appear “apt to teach.” 1 Tim. i. 3. This seeing, the apostle would have done, he would questionless have some order for the doing of it; which, excepting this of prophecy, we have none of apostolical institution. 4. That the doctrine of the church may be preserved pure, from the infection of error: which is far more easily corrupted, when some one or two alone in the church speak all, and all the rest have deep and perpetual silence enjoined them. 1 John iv. 1; Rev. ii. 2, 7, with i. 11.* 5. That things doubtful arising in teaching may be cleared, things obscure opened, things erroneous convinced; and lastly, that as by the beating together of two stones fire appeareth, so may the light of the truth more clearly shine by disputations, questions, and answers modestly had and made, and as becomes the church of saints, and work of God.† Luke ii. 40; iv. 21, 22; Acts xvii. 2; xviii. 24, 26, 28. 6. For the edification of the church, and conversion of them that believe not: and this the rather because it appertaineth not properly to the pastors, as pastors, to turn goats or wolves into sheep, but rather to feed the flock and sheep of Christ, in which the Holy Ghost hath made them overseers. 1 Cor. xiv. 4, 24, 25; Acts xx. 28.‡ 7. And lastly, Lest by excluding the commonalty and multitude from church affairs, the people of God be divided, and charity lessened, and familiarity and good-will be extinguished between the order of ministers and people.§
Harm. Synod. Belg. pp. 21, 23.
Jacob A. cont. Stratag. Sath, pp. 168, 169.
Eus. Eccl. His. 1. 6, c. 32, 36.
Sadeel adv. Turr. Soph. pp. 67, 68.
Pet. Mart, in 1 cor. xiv. 29.