Robinson, John (1)

Robinson, John (1), pastor of the "Pilgrim Fathers" of New England, was born in 1575. The Independents, as they were called, had their origin in a protest, not against popish intolerance and persecution, but against Protestant usurpation and bigotry connected with a persecution equal in atrocity to the darkest period of papal domination; not in the dark ages, but in the bright and golden age of Henry VIII and good queen Bess. While renouncing the supremacy of the pope and his title to headship in the Church of Christ, the king assumed ecclesiastical supremacy, and the change was from priestcraft to kingeraft, both eternally incompatible with the teachings of Christ. A little band whose consciences no chains could bind, and whose judgments no sophisms could pervert, rose up and mildly, but firmly, protested against such infringement of the rights of conscience and private judgment, and, rather than submit to the same, suffered imprisonment, torture, and death. An attempt was made in 1602 to seek refuge in Holland, but the vile treachery on the part of the captain of the ship on which they were embarked prevented. The next year, Robinson, the pastor of the little flock, made another effort; but they were again thwarted by untoward providences. Finally, a company arrived at Leyden in 1608. The Church was enlarged by additions mostly from English exiles, and numbered more than three hundred. Robinson was greatly respected by the clergy of Leyden, and also by the professors in the university. He gave proof not only of his piety, but of his scholarship. The Church was not allowed to rest in quiet in this asylum of conscience, but was pursued by the prelatic rage of the bigoted Laud. Holland was not allowed by Providence to be their rest, and they turned their thoughts across the ocean to the New World, where they might enjoy freedom to worship God in a heathen land. An appeal was made to king James as to whether they would be granted liberty of conscience in America. They made a full statement of their religious principles, keeping nothing back. The king promised to connive as to their religious principles and practices, but could not grant them toleration under the great seal.

In the beginning of the year 1620 they kept a day of solemn fasting and prayer; Robinson delivered a discourse from 1Sa 23:3-4. It was decided that part of the Church should emigrate and prepare the way, and the remainder follow when their pastor could go with them; but many could not get ready, and had to remain. Mr. Brewster, a ruling elder, was appointed to go as a leader. They were constituted as much an absolute Church as the portion that remained. In July they held another season of prayer, and the pastor preached from Ezr 8:21. On June 21 they left Leyden to embark at Delftshaven, and went on board ship the day after they arrived. All having assembled on deck, their beloved founder knelt and poured out his soul to God in prayer for the divine protection. They believed thoroughly not only in a general, but a special, providence, extending to the minutest events. The proceeds of their estates were put into a common stock, and, with the assistance of the merchants to whom they mortgaged their labor and trade for seven years, two vessels were provided — the Speedwell, of sixty tons, and the Mayflower, of one hundred and eighty tons. They expended seven thousand pounds in provisions and stores. The ships, carrying one hundred and twenty passengers, sailed from Southampton on Aug. 5, 1620. The Speedwell, proving leaky, had to put into port at Dartmouth for repairs. On Aug. 21 they put to sea again, and by still another providential interference, both ships proving unseaworthy, they were obliged to put back to Plymouth. About twenty left the Speedwell, and, taking with them their provisions, went on shore; the remainder, one hundred and one in number, went on board the Mayflower, and the shores of England were lost sight of forever. The company had entered into a solemn covenant to be faithful to God and each other. But little remarkable occurred during the voyage. There was one death, and one birth — a son of Stephen Hopkins, who was named Oceanus. On Nov. 9 they caught sight of the sandy cliffs of Cape Cod, and the next day entered the harbor. Before going ashore, they founded a democratic government, and elected John Carver to serve one year as governor of the colony. They named the place Plymouth. The first religious service held on land was on Dec. 31. Robinson had charged them to "follow him only so far as he followed Christ." They were faithful to the charge — a noble band of God fearing and God loving men; and they left unchanged to posterity

"What here they found-- freedom to worship God."

The only book of Robinson's writing was entitled Justification of Separation from the Church of England, published in 1851. He died March 11, 1625. See Allibone, Dict. of Brit. and Amer. Authors, s.v.; Chalmers, Biog. Dict. s.v.; Sprague, Annals of the Amer. Pulpit, 1, 1. (W.P.S.)

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