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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Robinson, John 1575-1625
John Robinson was the pastor of the Pilgrim Fathers before they left on the Mayflower. He became one of the early leaders of the English Separatists, minister of the Pilgrims, and is regarded (along with Robert Browne) as one of the founders of the Congregational Church. Robinson was born in Sturton-le-Steeple.
John was educated at Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School, Gainsborough, and at the age of about sixteen, he entered Corpus Christi College at Cambridge University. He remained there for the next twelve years, first as a student, and then later as a teacher. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1596, and his Master of Arts degree in 1599.
Robinson’s studies were preparing him to become a minister of the Church of England. The religious community in England at the time was in a state of flux, and Puritanism was firmly entrenched at Cambridge. During his years there, Robinson gradually began to accept its principles, having possibly been introduced to it at home in Lincolnshire. Before long, he was a leader in the religious controversy that swept across the land.
The leaders of this movement strongly criticized the Church of England because they believed its beliefs and rituals were too much like those of the Roman Catholic Church. The reforms they advocated would “purify” the established church. It was for this reason that they became known as “Puritans”.
The Puritans believed in the independence of each church congregation, and were opposed to any type of church hierarchy. Each congregation, they believed, should have the power to choose and dismiss their own ministers. Their “meeting houses” were starkly plain, with no pictures, statues, or stained glass windows. The Puritans did not celebrate Christmas, and they enjoyed 'strong water' and beer. Unlike other Puritans, however, Robinson's followers had no prohibitions against wearing bright colors as long as it was not done on the sabbath.
Many Puritans despaired of getting any of the changes they favored in the Church implemented. They decided to leave the Church of England and form churches of their own. These people were called Separatists.
The monarch, then as now, was the official head of the Church of England. Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) followed a tolerant policy toward the Puritans and Separatists. King James I (1556-1625), however, ascended the throne in 1603 and quickly instituted a policy designed to enforce religious conformity. The Puritans would, he warned, adhere or he would harry them out of the land. It was the King's belief that his throne depended on the Church hierarchy, No Bishops, no King.
James I vigorously enforced The Act Against Puritans (1593), 35 Elizabeth, Cap. 1, making it illegal for separatists to hold their own services. Anyone who did not attend the services of the Church of England for forty days, and who attended private services “contrary to the laws and statutes of the realm and being thereof lawfully convicted shall be committed to prison, there to remain without bail mainprise until they shall confirm and yield themselves to same church.” The king’s campaign to suppress religious freedom ended academic freedom at the universities. Rather than remain in this environment, John Robinson resigned his teaching position at Cambridge on February 10, 1604, and returned home to Nottinghamshire.
Married men were prohibited from teaching at Cambridge, and a desire to marry may have been a factor in Robinson’s resignation. Just five days later, on February 15, 1604, he married Bridget White (1579-1643), the daughter of Alexander and Eleanor (Smith) White. She was born in 1579, to prosperous yeoman farmer parents.
In the latter part of 1604, Robinson became pastor of St. Andrew’s Church in the bustling commercial center of Norwich. This rapidly growing industrial city had contacts on the continent with Holland and Flanders. It also had a considerable number of foreign workers and political refugees. In addition, the most influential political leaders and merchants in Norwich were Puritans.
Soon after he assumed his new duties in Norwich, the king issued a proclamation requiring that all ministers conform to a new book of canons. The deadline was set for the end of November. The bishops, reacting to pressure from King James, made life intolerable for Anglican ministers with Puritan beliefs. For that reason, Robinson left the church at Norwich and returned home to Sturton-le-Steeple, where he and Bridget resided with her parents.
The year 1606 was a very important one in his life for it was then that he left the Church of England and became a Separatist. Though vigorously persecuted, Separatist congregations had been active, especially in London, for a number of years. Later that year, a group of Puritans in the nearby village of Scrooby formed a Separatist congregation that came to number about one hundred members. Robinson, it appears, returned to Gainsborough and became a member of John Smyth's Separatist congregation that met,in secret,at Gainsborough Old Hall under the protection of its Lord, Sir William Hickman and his mother,Rose. However, at some point, he seems to have joined up again with the Separatists in Scrooby.
The congregation met at Scrooby Manor, the home of William Brewster. Brewster was the local postmaster and bailiff, and he was instrumental in the formation of the group. He was an old friend of Robinson as well as a Cambridge alumnus.
Richard Clyfton served as their minister, and John Robinson became the assistant pastor when he united with them. Other leaders included John and William Bradford, the latter of whom gave them the name by which they are known to history when he described himself and his followers as “pilgrims and strangers upon the earth.”
In the autumn of 1607, the congregation decided to leave England and emigrate to Holland. Religious freedom was permitted there, and English Separatists had already settled in Amsterdam. The Pilgrims secretly packed their belongings, and set out on foot for the sixty mile trek to the seaport town of Boston on the North Sea in Lincolnshire. Awaiting them there was a sea captain, who had agreed to smuggle them out of the country.
Before the congregation arrived in Boston, the captain had betrayed them to the authorities. The Pilgrims were searched, their money was taken, and their belongings were ransacked. They were then put on display for the crowds and confined in cells on the first floor of the Guildhall. During the month of their imprisonment, the magistrates treated them very well. Richard Clyfton, William Brewster, and John Robinson were the last to be released.
The second attempt to flee to Holland was successful. Robinson was not among the main group that left the country as he, Clifton, Brewster, and other leaders stayed behind until the following year to help weaker members leave the country. Clifton ended up staying behind due to his advanced age.
The congregation initially settled in Amsterdam where Separatists began to settle as early as 1593. The local congregation of Separatists was strife-ridden, and the Pilgrims left Amsterdam after the first year and settled in Leyden.
Leyden was a bustling city of 100,000 inhabitants in 1609. It contained a number of imposing buildings, and it was one of Europe’s most important centers of learning. Some of the most important scholars of the day were on the faculty of the University of Leyden, and it attracted students from all over western Europe.
Soon after the congregation settled in Leyden, John Robinson was publicly ordained as their new minister. William Brewster became their ruling elder. Under the leadership of Robinson and Brewster, the congregation grew steadily. People from all over England made their way to Leyden, and in time, the congregation came to number several hundred.
In January 1611, Robinson, William Jepson, Henry Wood, and his brother-in-law, Randall Thickins, purchased a large house called Grone Point. It was located almost directly behind St. Peter’s Church on Klok-steeg, which means “Bell Lane.” This site was only a block or two from the university, and it was purchased from John de Laliane for 8,000 guilders. Some 2,000 guilders were paid in advance, and the mortgage was paid off at the rate of 500 guilders per year. It seems apparent that they must have had a hard time raising that sum as they did not take possession of it until May of the following year.
This building served both as a home and a church. Over the next several years, twenty-one apartments were constructed in the garden for the less affluent members.
On September 5, 1615, John Robinson entered Leiden University as a student of theology. He attended the lectures of the noted theologians, Episcopius and Polyander. His entry into the university “freed him from control of magistrates” and entitled him to another privilege of the Dutch intellectuals. Every month he was eligible to receive a half tun (126 gallons) of beer, and ten gallons of wine every three months which were free of all taxes. In addition, no troops could be quartered in his home except during military emergencies. He also became exempt from standing night watch, and making contributions to public works and fortifications.
During his time at the university, Robinson was an active participant in the Arminian controversy, siding with the Calvinists. The former believed in free will, they rejected predestination, and they advocated the possibility of salvation for all. Calvinists, on the other hand, maintained that God is sovereign in the areas of redemption and regeneration. They believed that God saves whom he will, when he will, and how he will.
Robinson was urged by the noted Professor Polyander and other professors to defend Calvinism in public debates with the noted Professor Episcopius, a member of the university’s faculty. He reluctantly accepted, and began attending the professor's lectures to become well versed in his opponent's views. This preparation, he felt, was necessary if he was to ably refute the noted theologian’s beliefs. The debate lasted for three days. William Bradford, who was present, wrote that the Lord helped Robinson “to defend the truth and fail his adversary, as he put him [Episcopius] to an apparent non-plus in this great and public audience. This so famous victory procured him much honour and respect from those learned men and others who loved the truth.”
Robinson was also a rather prolific writer. During various periods, he wrote sixty-two essays, which include his adamant A Justification of Separation from the Church of England (1610), Of Religious Communion, Private and Public (1614), Apologia Brownistarum (1619), A Defence of the Doctrine propounded by the Synod of Dort (1624), Observations Divine and Morall (1625), and his more tolerant A Treatise on the Lawfulness of Hearing Ministers in the Church of England (1624; published after his death in 1634). Several pamphlets were also written defending Separatist doctrine, and their withdrawal from the Church of England. His Works, with a memoir by R. Ashton, were reprinted in three volumes in 1851.
The years spent in Holland were a time of poverty and hardship for a great majority of the congregation. This was in primarily due to the fact that there were not as many English Separatists joining their congregation as anticipated. The congregation was allowed to worship as they pleased, and most found the land of windmills and wooden shoes to be to their liking.
Holland was, however, a land whose culture and language were strange and difficult for the English congregation to understand or learn. Their children were becoming more and more Dutch as the years passed by. The congregation came to believe that they faced eventual extinction if they remained in Holland. Moreover, a war was brewing between the Dutch and Spanish, and the English congregation did not want to become involved in the conflict. These factors caused increasing dissatisfaction, and finally a decision to emigrate again, this time to America.
The decision to relocate was made early in 1619, when Deacon John Carver and Robert Cushman, who had business experience, were sent to London to negotiate with the London Company. They carried with them articles of belief, written by Robinson and Brewster, as evidence of their loyalty and orthodoxy.
Only a minority of the congregation (thirty-five members), under William Brewster, sailed on the Mayflower from England to America. They were joined by sixty-six people from Southampton and London who had little or no religious motivation. The majority of the congregation remained in Leyden, and planned to make the voyage at a later date. John Robinson agreed in advance to go with the group that was in the majority, and thus did not make the great historic trip. Before Brewster and his group left Holland, a solemn service was held, at which Robinson chose Ezra 8:21 as his text: “Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance.”
The Pilgrims reached the coast of what is now Massachusetts on December 21, 1620. They named their little settlement “Plymouth” after the city that they had sailed from in England. For the next several years, these Pilgrims awaited the arrival of Robinson and the rest of the congregation.
The departure for most of the rest of the congregation was delayed for several years, and before long, Robinson had died. He became ill on February 22, 1625, and recovered enough to preach twice the next day, which was Sunday. By the next Sunday, Reverend John Robinson, the great Apostle of Leyden, was dead. His remains were interred at St. Peter's Church.
The pastor of the Pilgrims : a biography of John Robinson (1920)
An answer to John Robinson of Leyden by a Puritan friend, now first published from a manuscript of A. D. 1609 (1920)
The works of John Robinson, pastor of the pilgrim fathers, Volume 1 (1851)
Dr. Allen's Descendants of Robinson
Essays, or, Observations divine and moral
Defence of the doctrine propounded by the Synod of Dort
The works of John Robinson, pastor of the pilgrim fathers, Volume 2 (1851)
A justification of separation from the Church of England, against Mr. Bernard's invective, entitled the Separatist's schism
The works of John Robinson, pastor of the pilgrim fathers, Volume 3 (1851)
A just and necessary apology
Two letters on Christian fellowship
On religious communion, private and public
The people's plea for the exercise of prophecy
On the lawfulness of hearing ministers in the Church of England
A letter to the Congregational church in London
An appeal on truth's behalf
An answer to a censorius epistle
A catechism
Appendix: The church in Southwark, by Rev. John Waddington
The exiles and their churches in Holland

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