VIII. Roger Williams and Dr. John Clarke Go to England to Promote the Interests of Rhode Island; Dr. Clarke’s Book, Ill News from New England


A Publication of Separation of Church and State Law Ministry.



Jerald Finney
Copyright © February 27, 2018


In November 1651, Dr. Clarke went to England with Roger Williams to promote the interests of Rhode Island. The objects of their commissions were different, but they mutually aided each other in removing a dangerous threat to their experiment of democracy—a Parliamentary Commission granted Governor Coddington, whose autocratic rule threatened the future of Rhode Island, on April 3, 1751, which installed him as governor of Aquidneck for life. “Mr. Clark[e] was the sole agent of the island towns, to procure a repeal of Mr. Coddington’s commission” and “Mr. Williams was the sole agent of Providence and Warwick, to procure a new charter for these two towns.”[1]

Dr. Clarke published his book Ill News from New-England: or a Narative of New-Englands Persecution…Also four conclusions touching the faith and order of the Gospel of Christ out of his last Will and Testament, confirmed and justified shortly after he arrived in London.

  • The work clearly demonstrated “Clarke’s subjection to an orderly state” showing that, to “him the secular rule is ordained of God, but it should not interfere with one’s religious convictions.”[2] “Both the church and the status of mankind, he argue[d], are ‘a two fold administration of power suitable to the two fold state of being of man.’ Love and conscience are emphasized by Clarke as inducements toward state honor and subjection rather than as engagements by force and fear. He implore[d] rulers to distinguish between these two ‘administrations of Christ’s power here on earth’ and to leave the spiritual realm to the control of God’s Spirit.” [3]

“The book combines a spirited defense on liberty of individual conscience toward God in religious matters, with pleas directed to England’s consideration in such matters.”[4] “While the letter appears as an apology for the Baptist faith, it seems that Clarke probably intends it as a timely and effective instrument, aimed at drawing British sympathy.”[5] Of Dr. Clarke’s book, Louis Franklin Asher commented, in part:

  • “Clearly and forcefully, Clarke calls attention to what he conceives as the necessary separation between the two real administrations of Christ’s power as exercised in the world—that is, the sword of steel, ‘whose Sword-bearers you are,’ as he styles the magistrates. The other administration he calls Scripture, the ‘sword that proceeds out of the mouth of his servants, the word of truth.’ Thus Clarke views ‘this spiritual administration as far as it concerns the outward man…[as] managed not by a sword of Steel,’ he argues, but by the Scripture of truth.
  • “In a bold but subservient manner, Clarke sets forth four simple but imploring proposals to the British Counsel of State. He begs the magistracy not to forcibly inhibit spiritual ministers but allow time to minister according to each one’s own conscience toward God. In so doing, he advises—even if they are heretics—they merely represent the tares among the wheat, to which Christ referred in his prohibition of their harvest or persecution by the secular arm of government. Clarke then asks that the secular power or ‘sword’ be withheld from use against the spiritual ‘tares’ rather than heaping abuse on them. In the fourth proposal, Clarke compares his majesty to that of a prophetic nursing Father in the Old Testament; thus he pleads for encouragement by spiritual ministers….
  • “[Included in the book is a letter to the Puritan clergy at Massachusetts.] [That] letter served as a fitting climax to Clarke’s encounter with the Bay officials and, it seems, he made use of it to maneuver the Rhode Island Colony into an advantageous posture with the English government. [He pointed out his persecution, contrasting it with] “the much kinder treatment and other ‘curtesies with far greater liberties in point of conscience,’ which previously the Puritan messengers had enjoyed on their tour through Rhode Island….
  • “[He also] denounces the Puritan church order …, and [t]he firm allegiance of the Puritans to the magistrates in matters of religion…. Clarke’s entire letter appears as a scorching public censure against the Massachusetts Puritanical system and its integrated form of civil power over ecclesiastical liberties.
  • “Never, under any circumstances, Clarke preached, should Christians force their persuasion on others nor should they resort to obeying magistrates in matters of religious concerns.”[6]

Through Mr. Clarke’s mediation and statesmanship, Coddington’s commission was revoked in 1652. Mr. Clarke was then further commissioned to stay in England to obtain a better and more substantial safeguard against “any further encroachments on their new [] way of life.”[7] Mr. Williams returned to New England in the early summer of 1654.


Endnotes

[1] Louis Franklin Asher, John Clarke (1609-1676): Pioneer in American Medicine, Democratic Ideals, and Champion of Religious Liberty (Paris, Arkansas: The Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc.), p. 72.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., p. 66.

[5] Ibid., p. 67.

[6] Ibid., pp. 67-68.

[7] Ibid., p. 73.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s