Front Page Titles (by Subject) To our Beloved, the Elders and Church at Amsterdam , grace and peace from God the giver thereof, and in him our salutations . - The Works of John Robinson, vol. 3
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To our Beloved, the Elders and Church at Amsterdam , grace and peace from God the giver thereof, and in him our salutations . - 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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To our Beloved, theEldersandChurchatAmsterdam, grace and peace from God the giver thereof, and in him our salutations.
We received your letter, brethren, but not answering either our expectation or the weightiness of the business in hand; and are withal rather driven to gather your meaning out of it, than finding the same in it expressed. Only we see plainly your intent of imputing special blame to one, by you accounted the chief adversary, as offering boastingly, as you say, to prove, that he doth worship the God of his fathers, in writing a letter in opposition to the church's agreement, and in rebellious refusing and despising of the same church. First, touching the person intended by you. It should not seem strange to any, if he were most forward, who was deepliest interested in the business; and that, so far as his church-estate and membership must necessarily stand or fall with that covenant impugned by you, as the branch with the root. As Zilpah was not, nor could be, rightfully, Leah's handmaid, except she had been Laban's first, rightfully, Gen. xxix. 24, by whose gift she was transmitted and conveyed unto her; so neither could he be truly a member there with you but by transmission, dismission, or conveyance (call it as you will) from this church to that, and so from that at London first to us here, by virtue of that first covenant there made by profession of faith; which covenant, howsoever by some light person accounted no better than the Turks might make, was by the churches both there and here, also in the time of those worthy governors, now at rest in the Lord,∗ esteemed truly Christian. The party intended by you should, by your grounds, not have been cast out, but left out of the church. And for the things by you imputed unto him, we are certified, by many eye and ear witnesses, that his speech was as followeth: “As Paul, in his case, when he was accused unjustly, said, ‘ In the way they call heresy, worship I the God of my fathers,’ so haply I in this, that which you call and have censured for faction, or a factious action, tending to the breach and division of the church, I judge to be nothing less, but rather a Christian duty, tending to love and not to division in the church in the least, either in action or intention. And if way may be given to speak our minds freely, without interruption, as hath been solemnly granted, it may and will so appear, I doubt not to the hearts,” &c. And that this speech he used not till all hope was taken away of any moderate course of proceeding, or of other than by simple confession of the sin of faction. And surely, brethren, it is not credible that he would speak of the worshipping of the God of his fathers, or that any one endued with common sense would offer to prove unto others that he worshipped God by that which he knew they esteemed sinful and evil. If he had proved that he had so worshipped God, what else had it been, but to have proved that he had worshipped God by doing evil, in their conscience, with whom he had to do? This had been an offer fit for him to make, that meant to prove himself guilty, and so to persuade others that he was; but not for him who means, as he did, to avow his innocency in the thing. Brethren, let us be mindful, as we ought, that no relation of a cause, nor plea for or against it, can make either ours the better, or our adversaries the worse, in the eyes of the Supreme Judge both of our persons and judgments, and all other our actions.
And whereas the course, well begun and tending to pacification, was, as we understand, interrupted and broken off, upon a ground taken from the course of not calling again into question, civil judgments once passed by the judge according to right; let it not be grievous unto you if we a little warn you of that dangerous foundation, upon which, it seems, you too much build your manner of proceeding in the church; and to let pass, that it were more for the true peace of the judges of the world with God, though some diminution of their credits in the eyes of vain men, if they not only revised, but often, upon better information or advice, even reversed their former sentences. We pray you call to mind how grievous it was unto the body of you, and dangerous in itself, when some of place amongst you, a few years since, would pattern the government of the church now, by the government of the elders in Israel, which is, in truth, to transform a service into a lordship. More specially for the matter in hand. When the civil judge hath passed sentence, and that execution is done accordingly, and that every one hath his due, there is an end of the matter; but in spiritual judgments there is a further thing which the magistrate meddles not with—the repentance of the censured to follow in time by God's blessing. The end of excommunication is not that the person might be excommunicated, but that repentance might follow; for the furthering whereof many things may and ought to be done in Christian discretion by the church towards the excommunicated, as being, as it were, the church's prisoner, 1 Cor. v. 5, by which he and his sins are bound upon earth, as our Lord teacheth, Matt. xviii. 18. And a larger extent of discretion this way, few cases in an age can persuade to, than this in hand, considering both the ground and carriage of the thing, and the number of the persons opposite, and with these the interest of all other churches in the business. And now understanding, brethren, that competent satisfaction for the manner of the carriage hath been tendered by the parties censured, for the matter to be reduced, as we conceive, to these two heads following, we can do no less, in honour of the truth, discharge of our own consciences before God, and due respect unto them in their distressed state, than to signify and profess,
1. That in a matter of mere counsel and advice, more than which neither the church of London required nor you could afford them, any particular persons advised with and having their reasons of difference from the church's persuasion, may, and, in cases of weight, such as this was, ought by speech or writing as there is occasion, signify that their different judgment and advice to them whom it concerns, provided the same be done in good manner and with due respect to the church. Solomon saith, Prov. xi. 14, that “in the multitude of counsellors there is safety;” and every man's common sense teacheth, that he who propounds a thing to others for counsel, should hear every man's opinion, and the reason thereof for his help and direction. To deny this is to deprive him of liberty that should give counsel, and him of help that should receive it. The church was not in this case to use authority, but to show reason.
2. That, seeing both Moses in the law, Deut. xix. 15, and Christ in the gospel, Matt. xviii. 15–17, ordains that every matter should be established by two or three witnesses, and that, in that order the church should be told or complained to of a brother; for the officer to traduce or complain of a brother to the church, without witness of an offence done, and to proceed with him by questions and interrogatories, tending to his prejudice, and for the church to censure him for refusing to answer such interrogatories so ministered, is both against Moses and Christ, and the law of nature itself, Acts xxiv. 8, 13; and xxv. 5, 16, which taught the wise of the heathen not to proceed in judgment with any but by way of accusation and proof of evil against him. And these persuasions of the things and defence of our own and all other Christians’, yea, of all men's lawful liberty, we are willing and able, by the grace of God, to justify against all gainsayers.
And now, brethren, what shall we say more unto you? Our and all other churches’ advice you reject, in confidence of your own unerring judgment and proceeding in this matter.
In your letter you mention the great weakness of the church. Oh, that you would indeed manifest such persuasion of yourselves! Then would you not proceed with that confidence in a matter and manner before unheard of in the churches; then would you both be glad of and desire the advice and counsel of others, able and willing, in the fear of the Almighty and in a good conscience, to afford you the best help they can; and not so carry things as if the Word of God either came from you or unto you alone. And for the church here, which is nearliest united unto you, what other use have you had of us, since the death of your wise and modest governors, in all your differences and troubles, save to help to bear part of that scandal and opprobry wherewith, specially in the public carriage of matters, you have laden the ordinances of God and professors of the same in the eyes of all, within and without. But in vain we speak unto you, whose ears prejudice hath stopped. We purpose not henceforth to trouble you any more in this kind; but taking part as occasion in the good things amongst you, and professing ourselves innocent of the things amiss, will bewail your state, which is indeed to be bewailed, and commend it, as we do, to the Lord for bettering. His grace be with you always more and more.
September 18, 1624.
PREFATORY NOTICE BY THE EDITOR.
Of the authenticity of this Epistle there can be no doubt, though published, it would seem, anonymously. Its history is as follows:—
The Rev. Joseph Hall, B.D., then Rector of Halstead, but afterwards Bishop of Norwich, published a Letter, in 1608, the year of Mr. Robinson's departure to Amsterdam, addressed to “Mr. Smyth and Mr. Rob(inson), Ringleaders of the late Separation at Amsterdam.” The Letter bears no date, but must have been written at the time referred to, inasmuch as Hall's Reply to the “Answer” was published in 1610; in the “Dedication” of which Reply, “To our gracious and blessed Mother, the Church of England,” he states, “that no less than a year and half is past, Rev. Dear and holy Mother, since I wrote a loving monitory Letter to two of thine unworthy sons, which I heard were fled from thee in person, in affection, and somewhat in opinion; supposing them yet thine, in the main substance, though in circumstances their own.”*
That Mr. Robinson was the Author of the “Answer” is placed beyond doubt, from the fact that Mr. Hall states in the “Dedication,” that since he wrote the Epistle, “one of them,” referring to Mr. Smyth, who had in the meantime become an Anti-psedobaptist, “hath washed off thy font water as unclean; and hath written desperately both against thee and his own fellows.”* In the “Apology,” he addresses Mr. Robinson: “I wrote not to you alone: what is become of your partner, yea, your guide? Woe is me! he hath renounced our Christendom with our church, and hath washed off his former water with new; and now condemns you all for not separating further, no less than we condemn you for separating so far.” And in the closing paragraphs of the “Apology,” Mr. Hall explicitly alludes to Mr. Robinson by name.†
Mr. Robinson must have received the “Censorious Epistle” shortly after his arrival at Amsterdam, in 1608, and replied to it immediately. Hall's Reply is long and elaborate, and must have occupied considerable time in its composition; but was published in 1610, thus furnishing internal evidence as to the date of Robinson's “Answer” being 1608, before he left Amsterdam for Leyden.
No separately published copy of Mr. Robinson's “Answer” has been found, but is, it is presumed, carefully and accurately reprinted in Hall's Reply to the “Answer,” entitled, “A common Apologie of the Church of England, against the unjust challenges of the over-just sect, commonly called Brownists: wherein the grounds and defences of the Separation are largely discussed; occasioned by a late Pamphlet, published under the name of ‘An Answer to a Censorious Epistle,’ which the reader shall finde in the margent.” By J. H. 4to., London, 1610.
As the title-page indicates, the “Answer” is copied into the “Apologie,” and forms the text-book of the Author's criticisms and animadversions.
As Mr. Robinson follows the order of the “Censorious Epistle,” and adapts his replies to the paragraphs successively, without quoting them verbatim, the Letter itself is reprinted before the “Answer,” that the subjects in dispute may be the better understood by the reader; and that the differences of opinion between Mr. Hall and Mr. Robinson, respecting the spirit and language of the “Censorious Epistle” may be seen, a few lines are transcribed from Mr. Hall's “Apologie.” Mr. Robinson's opinion will be learned from his “Answer,” which his clerical antagonist calls “a stomachful pamphlet”:—
“There was no gall in my pen, no insultation: I wrote to you as brethren, and wished you companions. There was more danger of flattery in my style, than bitterness. My opposition was not too vehement, but too slight and slender: so, strong champions blame their adversary for striking too early. You might have forborne this fault; it was my favour, that I did not my worst: you are worthy of more weight, that complain of ease.
“The discourse that I rolled down upon you was weak and weightless: you shall well find this was my lenity, not my impotence. The fault hereof is partly in your expectation, not in my letter. I meant but a short epistle; you looked belike for a volume or nothing.
“I meant only a general monition; you looked for a solid prosecution of particulars. It is not for you to give tasks to others’ pens. By what law must we write nothing but large scholastical discourses, such tomes as yours? May we not touch your sore, unless we will lance and search it? I was not enough your enemy; forgive me this error, and you shall smart more.”*
Mr. Robinson did not reply to Mr. Hall's “Common Apology,” judging it a needless task; and characterizing it as being “stuffed with popish principles,” and “as being as much and more immediately against the Reformists and their cause, in the main, as against us and ours.”†
Hall's Works, vol. ix., page 379, Edited by Rev. Josiah Pratt, B.D., F.A.S., Ed. 1808. London.
Character of the Beast, by John Smyth.
Hall's Works, vol. ix. page 384.
Hall's Works, vol. ix. page 383.
Vide vol. iii. Plea for Prophecy, Preface, page 286.