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CHAPTER III.: of flight in persecution. - 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 flight in persecution.
And here, being thereunto forced by the unreasonable provocation of Mr. Thomas Helwisse,* who in great confidence, and passion, layeth load of reproaches both upon our flight in persecution, and also upon our persons for it, I will (God assisting me) by the Scriptures, approve the same, as lawful, and so answer what he hath written to the contrary.
For which purpose we will consider, for our instruction, what the practice hath been of the holy patriarchs, prophets, and apostles, with other godly men in their times, in cases of danger for well-doing, and what approbation therein they have had from the Lord.
We will begin with the patriarch, Jacob, whose two notable flights, for fear of danger, the Scriptures mention: the former from his profane brother Esau, the other from his churlish uncle Laban. Gen. xxvi. 42, 43; xxxi. 20. Touching whose flights these three things are more specially to be observed: 1. That he fled from one country to another. 2. That in his very flight, the Lord did abundantly communicate himself with him, comforting and blessing him. 3. That it was he which thus fled, who had power and strength, to wrestle with God, and by wrestling to prevail.
Next unto him is Moses the servant of the Lord, who having entered upon the execution of his office in killing the Egyptian, and perceiving that the thing was known, fled out of Egypt, for fear of Pharaoh into Midian, another country also, and there dwelt, and took him a wife: during whose time of exile, and abode there, the Lord also did marvellously communicate himself with him, and called him to the greatest dignity in the earth: which was to be the deliverer, and guide of his peculiar people. Acts vii 25; Exod. ii. 12, 14, 15; iii. 4, 18.
Descend we next unto David, whose flights, though he wanted no true courage, how many were they, and those also from the tabernacle, the only place of God's special presence, by reason of Saul's persecution, not only in his own country, where he was driven to hide himself in wildernesses, and caves, and desert mountains, but even into strange, and profane countries, as to Gath of the Philistines, and to Mizpeh in Moab, 1 Sam. xix. 12; xxi. 1. 10; xxii. 1, 3: all whose wanderings God did count, putting his tears in his bottle, Psa. lvi. 8: and directing him graciously in his flights, and that of times, even for such meditations, as are left for the instruction, and comfort of God's people in their flights, and other trials, to the world's end.
We do also read of Jeremiah and Baruch, their hiding themselves from danger, Jer. xxxvi. 19: and of Elijah the prophet's hiding himself by the Lord's appointment from Ahab's cruelty: and how the Lord did extraordinarily furnish him for his further flight in the wilderness, by the ministry of his angel. 1 Kings xvii. 3; xviii. 10; xix. 3, 5.
Yea, we have even Christ our Lord himself, when Herod thought to kill him, in his infancy, carried into Egypt by Joseph, with Mary his mother, whither they fled to keep the babe from being destroyed, and there abode, till the danger was over, Matt. ii. 13–15: and therein, as our head, sanctifying flight in his mother's arms, to all his members in their time, who are partakers of the fellowship of his afflictions, and of this amongst the rest. Phil, iii. 10. Which liberty he did also sundry times in his riper years use himself, and so ratify unto us, by avoiding the places of danger, where his enemies were, who sought to destroy him: and thereby escaping out of their hands, till his hour were come, unto him certainly, and infallibly known: directing his disciples also, that when they were persecuted in one city they should fly unto another: and to beware of men, and to look to themselves. Mark. iii. 6, 7; Luke iv. SO, 30; John iv. 1, 3, vii. 1, x. 39; Matt. x. 23. Which liberty they also used time after time, as appears in many particulars: as first, in all the church at Jerusalem, scattered abroad, and dispersed, save the apostles, by means of persecution: with whom the Lord also was, blessing them wheresover they came. So, in Peter being freed from Herod's tyranny, getting him to another place. Likewise in Paul and Barnabas flying from Iconium to avoid violence, unto Lystra, as Paul had done before from Damascus; where to avoid the lying in wait of the Jews he was let down by night through the wall of the city, by a rope in a basket. In which his base flight he doth also rejoice afterwards, as being one of his infirmities or sufferings for Christ. Acts viii. 1, xi. 19–21, xii. 3, 4, 17, xiv. 1, 5, 6; ix. 23–25; 2 Cor. xi. 30.
Add we in the last place, that which is written of the servants of God elsewhere, that they of whom the world was not worthy, did by faith wander up and down, in sheepskins, and goatskins, and that in wildernesses, and mountains, and dens, and caves of the earth. Heb. xi. 37–39.
And for not only flight, but even banishment also, we have John the servant of Christ in the isle called Patmos for the word of God, and for the witnessing of Jesus Christ, Rev. i. 9: that is, banished, and confined to that isle, by the Roman emperor, with which also that in Isaiah, xvi. 4, consorteth, where the Lord requires of Moab, to let his banished dwell with her. Considering then, how plainly, and expressly the Scriptures speak in the point, it is marvel, that any, making them their direction, should abridge either themselves, or others ordinarily of the liberty of flight in persecution. But we will come to Mr. Helwisse's oppositions against it.
And as he hath a better faculty in reviling men's persons, than in refuting their judgments, so begins he his plea with a bitter accusation against false-hearted leaders, who, as he saith, to be sure not to lose their lives for Christ, flee into strange countries, and free states, and draw people after them, to support their kingdom, &c.; seeking the kingdom of heaven, as far they may with their safety. Page 205.
If we principally sought our earthly good, or safety, why did we not abide at home, or why return we not thither, applying ourselves to the times, as so many thousands do? that I may not allege, that by seeking such a kingdom of heaven, or church, as out of which we should throw our children, as he hath done, which we might do safely enough, if without sin, we could procure to ourselves much more earthly help and furtherance, in the country where we live, as he knew well. And for drawing over the people, I know none of the guides, but were as much drawn over by them, as drawing them. The truth is, it was Mr. Helwisse, who above all, either guides or others, furthered this passage into strange countries: and if any brought oars, he brought sails, as I could show in many particulars, and as all that were acquainted with the manner of our coming over, can witness with me. Neither is it likely, if he, and the people with him at Amsterdam, could have gone on comfortably, as they desired, that the unlawfulness of flight would ever have troubled him: but more than likely it is that, having scattered the people, by his heady and indiscreet courses, and otherwise disabled himself, that natural confidence, which abounded in him, took occasion, under an appearance of spiritual courage, to press him upon those desperate courses, which he, of late, hath run. By which he might also think it his glory, to dare and challenge king, and state to their faces, and not to give way to them, no not a foot: as indeed it far better agrees with a bold spirit, and haughty stomach, thus to do, than with the apostle in the base infirmity of Christ to be let down through a wall in a basket, and to run away.
But we will weigh his reason against our flight. And first, he accuseth us, page 205, that, for justifying of it we pervert Christ's saying, Matt. x. 28, which is, “When they persecute you in one city, flee into another:” and that Christ there bids his disciples, when they are persecuted in one city, go to another, to preach the gospel: because they should not go over all the cities of Israel, till the Son of man come.
The truth is, it is he that too boldly both alters the words, and perverts the meaning of Christ, in putting going to preach, for fleeing from persecution: which liberty if he may lawfully use against the Scriptures, there will then be for us no lawful liberty of flight indeed. But as the word φέυγετε is properly, and necessarily turned “flee,” so Christ, saying unto them, “When they persecute you, flee,” saith unto them flee, to avoid their persecution, as they also afterwards did. Yet because he directs his speech, immediately, to the twelve apostles designed, who were by their office to preach, as to all the world, so first to the Jews, he chargeth them not to think themselves freed, by their persecution, from preaching, nor so to flee as to forget, or neglect their office of apostleship, but that still in their fleeing they should remember their special calling: telling them both for their provocation, and comfort, that before they would pass through all the cities of Israel he would come, to wit, by the more glorious work of his Spirit, for the advancement of his kingdom. So that in the words of Christ to his apostles, two things are contained: the former a liberty of flight in persecution, and the same so evidently, as that an angel from heaven teaching the contrary, were not to be believed; the other, a charge so to fly, as that for any persecution, they ceased not to preach whithersoever they were driven. And so the answer-is easy to that which followeth, namely, that we flee to cities of a strange country to whom we cannot preach, &c. For 1. It is the fulfilling of our office if we preach to the particular flocks over which we are set, not being apostles, as they were: though I could also allege, that we have so preached to others in those cities, as that by the blessing of God working with us, we have gained more to the Lord, than Mr. Hehwisse's church consists of. And secondly, I would know, how he, and the people with him have preached to the city of London? Surely not as the apostles did, in the synagogues, and public places: much less do they flee, being persecuted (or go, if so they will have it), from city to city, to preach, as did the apostles.
Where he, Mr. Helwisse. further objecteth that our fleeing is to save ourselves from being as sheep in the midst of wolves, and from being delivered up to councils, &c., pp. 205–207: I answer, that as these trials did necessarily follow upon the apostles' callings, as being to be employed amongst unbelieving Jews, and Gentiles, in their ordinary ministration, so do they not in like manner, or measure of necessity, lie upon us, who are appointed to feed the particular flocks of believers, over which we are set. Acts xx. 17, 28; 1 Pet. v. 1. Only they teach, that, if God so dispose of us, and that we cannot by good means avoid the same, we then patiently, and in faith give witness to Christ's truth, and testament, by suffering these, and all other kind of evils. The Scriptures in many places exhort unto poverty, hunger, nakedness, loss of goods, and lands for Christ's sake; must now the servants of God, therefore, necessarily be poor, and destitute of outward necessaries? Some indeed upon these grounds have vowed wilful poverty: as did this man upon the like, vow (it seems) wilful persecution.
Touching the practice of the apostles, Acts v. 19, 20, 40, 42, and viii. 1, I answer that at other times those very apostles did fly persecution; as did also Paul, though of both as great courage, and zeal, as any other. But for that present they were tied to that very place, and might not depart thence, but were at Jerusalem first soundly to publish and plant the gospel of Christ: as also thence to send, or go to other places, as they were occasioned. Luke xxiv. 47; Acts i. 8. And (excepting the extraordinary occasion of the apostles) the latter of the scriptures he brings, is directly against him: where it is said that the whole church at Jerusalem was scattered abroad, and dispersed, by reason of persecution. And for their preaching to their countrymen the Jews, where they came; and, as they had occasion, to the Gentiles, it is that we also do, and desire to do, as we have occasion, and means: this being always remembered, that we are distinct and entire congregations, in ourselves, which they were not. Acts v. 19, 20; viii. 14; and xi. 22.
Where in the next place he notes, for his purpose, the assault made against Paul and Barnabas in Iconium, Acts xiv. 5, he should also have noted for the truth's sake, that, ver. 6, they being aware of it, fled to Lystra, and Derbe. And for their returning again into the places where they had been persecuted, ver. 21, 22, first, their persecutions in those places had been but by the tumultuous multitude, by the provocation of the Jews, which like a tempest, were soon over, and not by any stablished laws, or settled course of justice; and secondly, it was but the apostles' duties, as being universal men, and having upon them the care of all the churches, 2 Cor. xi. 28, and not being tied to any (Certain congregation as we are.
The commendations given of the churches of Thessalonica, 2 Thess. i. 4, and of Pergamos, Rev. ii. 13, for their patience in affliction, and that dwelling where Satan's throne was, they kept Christ's name, even when Antipas was martyred, do not reprove our practice at all, p. 207: the like commendations being. elsewhere given of others, as I have shown, for keeping the faith with holiness, in their wandering flight from one place, and country to another. Heb. xi. 1, 2, 37, 38. The apostle, 1 Cor. vii., commends them who keep themselves single to avoid trouble in the flesh, and that they may be the more free for the Lord: doth he therefore condemn them that marry in the Lord to avoid fornication? Or doth he not commend both, as doing well? and either in doing better, in divers regards? He that is in danger of uncleanness doth better to marry: and he that is without that danger, and can more freely, in a single state, give himself to the Lord, doth better in that respect, so to abide. So is it in flight, which is allowed, nay required, against natural fear, and many other both inconveniences, and evils, ordinarily, in persecution, as is marriage against fornication besides, as those churches knew not, happily, whether to go to be better, in those days, so neither was their persecution such, but that they might enjoy their mutual fellowship and ministers, and bring up their children and families in the information of the Lord, and his truth, though with great persecution even of some particular men unto death, at times, and by occasions, which in England all men know, we could not possibly do.
That which he adds, p. 220, of Christ's enjoining the man dispossessed of the devil, to go home to his friends, and show them, what great things the Lord had done for him, makes as much against themselves as us. For why go not they home every one to his friends, for that end, but abide in London where fewest of their friends are? It is, then, his ignorance to tie all by that special commandment. At another time Christ would not suffer one, so much as to go home, and bid his friends farewell: nor another to bury his father, before they followed him, Luke ix. 69–62; as here on the contrary he would not suffer this man to follow him, but sends him back to his friends: but doth not at all therein forbid him flight in persecution, as Mr. Helwisse gathereth.
That we should not fear men, which can kill the body, but deny ourselves, &c.: we do acknowledge, and by the grace of God, so practise. We have not feared men, that is so feared them, as for their persecutions, to deny any part of the truth of Christ known unto us, or any way to sin against the same: but do keep, as frail men, a good conscience in the obedience of all the parts thereof: having also (the glory be the Lord's! who hath shown us his mercy, and enabled us thereunto) learnt to deny ourselves, though with much weakness, in our country, friends, possessions, riches, credits, liberty, yea and in our lives also in resolution, and will, for Christ's sake, and truth: and, withal, to suffer those kinds of afflictions, for the avoiding of which, many have withdrawn from the same truth, for which they have offered their lives to a magistrate, as resolvedly, as this man hath his for his errors.
Where he saith further, that the cities where we are, neither receive us, nor the word we bring, otherwise than they receive Turks and Jews, he speaks very untruly both of them, and us, as, were it of use, I could show evidently. And lastly, to his demand, page 211, when we will shake of the dust of our feet for a witness against the city, or house, that will not receive us, and depart thence as the apostles did? I answer, when we are apostles, as they were: and do again ask, why did not he, and why do not his companions shake off the dust of their feet against London, which receives them not at all? And if the churches of Christ be thus to shake off the dust of their feet against the cities, which receive not their doctrine, how could the church of Pergamos be commended for dwelling, and continuing in that city, which received not the truth, but had on the contrary, Satan's throne established in it, and persecuted the martyrs of the truth unto death?
For flight, then, thus much. As we read that Christ our Lord, the prophets and apostles, did at some times, and ordinarily, avoid and flee persecution, and at other times not; so are we to know, that there are times and occasions seasonable for both. Neither are the words of Christ, “When they persecute you, flee,” an absolute commandment, as he thinketh, any more than those of the master to his servant, “When thou hast served me, eat thou and drink thou.” Luke xvii. 8. They are a grant of liberty, and a direction how to use it. As we, then, shall perceive either our flying or abiding to be most for God's glory and the good of men, especially of our family and those nearest unto us, and for our own furtherance in holiness; and as we have strength to wade through the dangers of persecutions, so are we with good conscience to use the one or other. Which, our hope and comfort also is, we have done in these our days of sorrow; some of us coming over by banishment, and others otherwise.
And thus have I answered whatsoever in this book hath any colour of reason against our flight in persecution. His rash and ungodly censures, both upon our practice and persons, yea upon the very secret intents of our hearts, I do of purpose pass by, as being the fruit of his stout stomach, and heart soured with his own leaven; assuring myself, that no wise man will for the same, either think us the less, or him the more, truly zealous.
But, for that divers weak persons have been troubled and abused by some other things in the same book, in which also he much insulteth, and that over myself amongst and above others, I think it fit in this place to annex an answer to that part of it which is directed against us, whom he, with others, miscalls Brownists, and. and against our (falsely called by him, false) profession.
The Rev. Thos. Hellwisse was one of the Puritan party, and subsequently joined himself to the Separatists. He advised exile for the sake of enjoying liberty of conscience and of worship, and accompanied a number of the persecuted brotherhood to Amsterdam. He joined Mr. Smyth's Church in that city. Mr. Hellwisse's views on baptism were changed at the time of Mr. Smyth's; he therefore renounced his connexion with the Independent Church, and united himself with Mr. Smyth in forming a Baptist Church. On the death of Mr. Smyth, in 1609, the church chose Mr. Hellwisse as their pastor. He did not continue long in the pastorate amongst them. Believing that he had committed an error in fleeing from England on account of persecution, he, with many of his flock, returned to his native land, and published, in defence of himself and his companions in tribulation, a small treatise, entitled, “A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity,” 16mo., pp. 212, 1612. To this work, the present and following sections of Mr. Robinson's treatise are designed as a reply. Before his return to England, he is supposed to have written “A Declaration of the Faith of the English people remaining at Amsterdam,”—to which Mr. Robinson replies, also, in the last section of this volume,—also two small treatises, entitled respectively, “A Proof that God's Decree is not the Cause of any Man's Condemnation, and that all Men are redeemed by Christ, and that no Infants are condemned,” 12mo., pp. III; and, “An Advertisement, or Admonition, unto the Congregation which Men call New Fryelers, in the Low Countries, &c.” 16mo., pp. 94. On his return to England, he settled in London, and founded, it is supposed, the first general Baptist Church in this country. Nothing is known of his history after the year 1612, beyond the fact of his labouring zealously in his Master's cause, and of his suffering greatly “for righteousness' sake,” till 1620, when he was released from his labours and trials by the hand of death. Vide Crosby's History of the Baptists, vol. i., pp. 269–276; Brook's Lives of the Puritans, vol. ii, pp. 279–282; Ivimey's History of the English Baptists, &c., for the years 1610–1700, vol. ii., p. 505; Hanbury's Historical Memorials, vol. i., pp. 266, 267, 276, 293, 418; Hanserd Knollys Society's Tracts on Liberty of Conscience, and Persecution, 1614— 1661; republished in 1846.