The Soteriology of John Robinson, Pilgrim Pastor and Advocate of the Reformed Faith -- By: Stephen M. Johnson

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 044:1 (Spring 1982)
Article: The Soteriology of John Robinson, Pilgrim Pastor and Advocate of the Reformed Faith
Author: Stephen M. Johnson


The Soteriology of John Robinson, Pilgrim Pastor
and Advocate of the Reformed Faith

Stephen M. Johnson

During the first two decades of the seventeenth century Holland became the home of a multitude of Englishmen; some seeking their economic fortune and others finding the Low Countries a haven of toleration away from the increasingly conformist ecclesiastical policies of James I (1603–25). In the city of Amsterdam, during the years 1609–10, there were no less than six English-speaking churches of varying size pastored by John Paget, Henry Ainsworth, Francis Johnson, John Smyth, Thomas Helwys and John Robinson.

During these decades of theological turmoil the issues of church polity and the doctrines of grace (soteriology) became the twin foci of controversy. The former was primarily an English issue which was gradually consolidated into distinct patterns of church government. Holland provided the tolerant climate needed for experimentation. The later controversy became a matter of international concern climaxing in the triumph of Calvinism at the Synod of Dort, 1618–19.

The purpose of this paper is to explore the views and involvement of one of these English refugee pastors, John Robinson (1575–1625), in the controversy over soteriology. Unfortunately, this topic has not received the attention it deserves. Historians, many of whom have little sympathy for Robinson’s unwavering Calvinism, only treat superficially his soteriological writings. Theologians and historical-theologians of the Calvinistic tradition likewise bypass the writings of Robinson in deference to the more celebrated figures of the Arminian controversy; while other scholars of the Baptist or Congregational tradition dwell upon Robinson’s ecclesiological concerns (polity, church/state relations, and religious tolerance) to the neglect of his soteriology. Furthermore, while the congregation of Robinson (the Pilgrim

Fathers) has received the lavished attention of Colonial American historians, their shepherd and theological mentor has remained a remote figure. This oversight is largely due to the inability of Robinson to join his flock in the New World. Such neglect from all quarters is made even more culpable by the fact that the edited works of Robinson have been in print since 1851.1 In our examination of the soteriology of John Robinson attention will be given not only to the content but also the context in which the Pilgrim pastor’s view emerged. Finally, we will note something of the consequence and import of his views in conjunction with his contemporaries, especially the early English “General Baptists” (John Smyth, Thomas Helwys, and John Murton).<...

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