Tag Archives: Isaac Backus

VII. The Revival Dies; Separate Churches Die; Baptist Denomination Grows; Formation of the Warren Association in 1770 To Obtain Religious Liberty; Isaac Backus’s Efforts; An Appeal to the Public

 


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VIII. Backus Presents Appeal for Religious Liberty at Continental Congress; Debate in the Newspapers; Warren Association Activities; Backus Urges Religious Liberty in New Massachusetts Constitution; John Adams Works against Religious Liberty

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Jerald Finney
Copyright © February 28, 2018


The revival died out almost as fast as it had appeared. Conversions became rare. People turned their attention to politics and controversy. The Separate churches and groups either died, or found their way into the Baptist camp. The Baptist denomination experienced an unprecedented growth. In 1740 no more than six Calvinistic Baptist churches existed in New England; but by 1800 there were more than 325 Baptist churches, most of them Calvinistic.[1]

The Warren Association, an association of Baptist churches, was formed in 1770. The main goal was to obtain religious liberty. This marked an important movement in the history of New England. An advertisement to all Baptists in New England was published requesting them to bring in exact accounts of their cases of persecution to the first annual meeting on September 11, 1770. The establishment feared the association and countered by dealing deceitfully with it and spreading lies about the association.[2]

Isaac Backus was the key member of the grievance committee of the Warren Association in September 1771. “[He soon] became the principal spokesman for the Baptists in their efforts to disestablish the Puritan churches. As such he did more than any other man to formulate and publicize the evangelical position on Church and State which was ultimately to prevail throughout America.”[3]

“An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty Against the Oppression of the Present Day” was the most important of the 37 tracts which Backus published during his lifetime and was central to the whole movement for separation of church and state in America. “It remains the best exposition of the 18th century pietistic concept of separation.”[4] In that tract, Backus argued, among other things:

  • “Basic to the Baptist position was the belief that all direct connections between the state and institutionalized religion must be broken in order that America might become a truly Christian country. Backus, like Jefferson and Madison, believed that ‘Truth is great and will prevail’—but by ‘Truth’ he meant the revealed doctrines of grace. His fundamental assumption was that ‘God has appointed two different kinds of government in the world which are different in their nature and ought never to be confounded together; one of which is called civil, the other ecclesiastical government.’ The two had been ‘confounded together’ by the Emperor Constantine and the Papacy and had ultimately been brought to New England by the Puritans ‘who had not taken up the cross so as to separate from the national church before they came away.’ A ‘Brief view of how civil and ecclesiastical affairs are blended together among us [in 1773] to the depriving of many of God’s people of that liberty of conscience which he [God] has given us’ utilized also the long–forgotten arguments of Roger Williams to defend the doctrines of separation.”[5]

Amidst persecutions of Baptists for failing to pay ministerial taxes, the association met on September 1773 and voted to refrain from giving any more certificates for tax exemption to pay the established minister. Backus listed the reasons why they would no longer obey “a law requiring annual certificates to the other denomination.” “Jefferson in his preamble to the Religious Liberty Act of Virginia and Madison in his famous Remonstrance of 1785 utilized essentially deistic arguments based upon reason and natural law. Backus’s arguments were pure pietism[:]”[6]

  • [To get a certificate] “implies an acknowledgement that religious rulers had a right to set one sect over another, which they did not have.” 2. Civil rulers have no right to impose religious taxes. 3. Such practice emboldens the “actors to assume God’s prerogative.” 4. For the church, which is presented as a chaste virgin to Christ, to place her trust and love upon others for temporal support is playing the harlot. 5. “[B]y the law of Christ every man is not only allowed but also required to judge for himself concerning the circumstantials as well as the essentials of religion, and to act according to the full persuasion of his own mind.” The practice tends to envy, hypocrisy, and confusion, and the ruin of civil society.[7]

An Appeal to the Public was pietistic America’s declaration of spiritual independence. Like Jefferson’s Declaration three years later, it contained a legal brief against a long train of abuses, a theoretical defense of principle, and a moral argument for civil disobedience.”[8] No answer was ever given to “An Appeal to the Public” which was published in Boston. The collection of taxes for support of the established religion continued with confiscation of property and imprisonments occurring.[9]


Endnotes

[1] William L. Lumpkin, Baptist Foundations in the South (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2006), p. 20.

[2] Isaac Backus, A History of New England With Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians called Baptists, Volume 2 (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, Previously published by Backus Historical Society, 1871), pp. 154-156; pp. 408-409 of A History of New England… gives more on the formation of the Warren Association.

[3] William G. McLoughlin, Isaac Backus and the American Piestic Tradition (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1967), p. 109.

[4] Ibid., p. 123. The entire contents of the tract are in Isaac Backus on Church, State, and Calvinism, Pamphlets, 1754-1789, Edited by William G. McLoughlin (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1968), pp. 303-343.

[5] Ibid., pp. 123-124.

[6] Ibid., p. 126.

[7] Backus, Volume 2, p. 178, citing “An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty.”

[8] McLoughlin, Isaac Backus and the American Piestic Tradition, p. 127.

[9] Backus, Volume 2, pp. 178-182. Christian, Volume I, p. 388.

Conclusion: History of Religious Freedom in America


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Religious Freedom in America!

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Jerald Finney
Copyright © March 5, 2018


Early in the colonial period, men formed the first notable government that legally protected separation of church and state and religious liberty. This historical event arose out of a conflict between the two currents which flowed in opposite directions.

  • “A large number of people fled out of the old world into this wilderness for religious liberty; but had not been here long before some put in high claims for power, under the name of orthodoxy; to whom others made fierce opposition professedly from the light within; and their clashings were so great that several lives were lost in the fray. This made a terrible noise on the other side of the water. But as self-defence is a natural principle, each party wrote volume after volume to clear themselves from blame; and they both conspired to cast a great part of it upon one singular man [Roger Williams], whom they called a weathercock and a windmill. Now let the curious find out if they can, first how men of university learning, or of divine inspiration, came to write great volumes against a windmill and a weathercock? secondly, how such a strange creature came to be an overmatch for them all, and to carry his point against the arts of priestcraft, the intrigues of court, the flights of enthusiasm and the power of factions, so as after he had pulled down ruin upon himself and his friends, yet to be able, in the midst of heathen savages, to erect the best form of civil government that the world had seen in sixteen hundred years? thirdly, how he and his ruined friends came to lie under those reproaches for a hundred years, and yet that their plan should then be adopted by thirteen colonies, to whom these despised people could afford senators of principal note, as well as commanders by sea and land? The excellency of this scene above those which many are bewitched with, consists in its being founded upon facts and not fictions; being not the creature of distempered brains, but of an unerring Providence.”[1]

Many brave men and women, with Baptists at the forefront, paid a high price on the path to religious liberty and freedom of speech, association, and the press. One should not forget that those people were motivated by a deep love for God and his word, not by earthly concerns.

As a result of the fight, Christians, and everyone else in America, have religious freedom. The United States Supreme Court still upholds the wall of separation between church and state and freedom of conscience.[2]

Christians in America have been blessed above measure and can choose to please God and not be persecuted for it. The brief time men will be on earth is miniscule compared to eternity. The time an individual Christian is here is nothing more than a blink of the eye. An American believer now has the opportunity to glorify God without persecution. That opportunity was the result of the trail of blood left by the martyrs for Christ.

If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed (John 8.36).

Every breath a believer takes out of God’s will is a wasted breath. He will praise God naturally, not as a matter of choice, in heaven. This is his one chance, during his eternal existence, to live for Christ of his own free will. This is the one shot he has to choose to please, serve, praise, and glorify God. After leaving this world, some will learn, when it is too late, that they never glorified him when they had the choice. Some will learn that they did not proceed according to knowledge, understanding, and wisdom; and that they followed and promoted the principles and goals of the god of this world.


Endnotes

[1] Isaac Backus, A History of New England With Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians called Baptists, Volume 1 (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, Previously published by Backus Historical Society, 1871), pp. 408-409.

[2] See Jerald Finney, God Betrayed, Separation of Church and State: The Biblical Principles and the American Application (Xulon Press, 2008 (www.xulonpress.com), Section V. Sadly, while upholding that wall of separation, the Court has also twisted the meaning of the First Amendment so as to remove God from practically all civil government matters.

II. The Continuing Fight for a Religious Freedom Amendment; The First Amendment Is Adopted and Approved


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Conclusion to Lessons on Religious Liberty in America

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Jerald Finney
Copyright © March 5, 2018


James Madisons first act, after the First Congress was organized, in 1789, was to propose, on June 8, certain amendments, including what is now the First Amendment. His purpose was to “conciliate and to make all reasonable concessions to the doubting and distrustful”—to those, the Baptists, who were concerned about the issue of religious liberty. “Of all the denominations in Virginia, [the Baptists] were the only ones that had expressed any dissatisfaction with the Constitution on that point, or that had taken any action into looking to an amendment.” The Baptists of Virginia had also corresponded with Baptists of other states to “secure cooperation in the matter of obtaining” a religious liberty amendment. No other denomination asked for this change.[1] A general committee of Baptist churches from Virginia presented an address to President Washington, dated August 8, 1789, expressing concern that “liberty of conscience was not sufficiently secured,” perhaps because “on account of the usage we received in Virginia, under the regal government, when mobs, bonds, fines and prisons, were [their] frequent repast.”[2] President Washington assured them that he would not have signed the Constitution if he had had the slightest apprehension that it “might endanger the religious rights of any ecclesiastical society.”[3]

Some Baptists and others did not see the need for a religious freedom amendment. Indeed, the First Amendment may not have been necessary to guarantee separation of church and state. Isaac Backus was elected as a delegate to the Massachusetts convention of January, 1788, which considered the issue of ratification of the new Constitution. He spoke at the convention.

  • “On February 4, [Backus] spoke of ‘the great advantage of having religious tests and hereditary nobility excluded from our government.’ These two items in the Constitution seemed to him a guarantee against any establishment of religion and against the formation of any aristocracy. ‘Some serious minds discover a concern lest, if all religious tests should be excluded, the congress would hereafter establish Popery, or some other tyrannical way of worship. But it is most certain that no such way of worship can be established without any religious test.’ He said ‘Popery,’ but he probably feared, as many Baptists did, that some form of Calvinism of the Presbyterian or Consociational variety was more likely. His interpretation of this article helps to explain why the Baptists [of Massachusetts] made no effort to fight for an amendment on freedom of religion along with the others which the convention sent to Congress.”[4]

Even Madison, who proposed and fought for the First Amendment, did not believe that it was necessary for the security of religion. He wrote in his Journal on June 12, 1788:

  • “… Is a bill of rights a security for Religion? … If there were a majority of one sect, a bill of rights would be a poor protection for liberty. Happily for the states, they enjoy the utmost freedom of religion. This freedom arises from that multiplicity of sects, which pervades America, and which is the best and only security for religious liberty in any society. For where there is such a variety of sects, there cannot be a majority of any one to oppress and persecute the rest. Fortunately for this commonwealth, a majority of the people are decidedly against any exclusive establishment—I believe it to be so in the other states…. But the United States abounds in such a variety of sects, that it is a strong security against religious persecution, and it is sufficient to authorize a conclusion, that no one sect will ever be able to outnumber or depress the rest.”[5]

Others were against a bill of rights. “James Wilson argued that ‘all is reserved in a general government which is not given,’ and that since the power to legislate on religion or speech or press was not given to the Federal government, the government did not possess it, and there was therefore no need for an express prohibition.”[6] “Alexander Hamilton argued that a bill of rights, not only was unnecessary, but would be dangerous, since it might create the inference that a power to deal with the reserved subject was in fact conferred.”[7]

The amendment was adopted on September 25, 1789, and was approved by the required number of states in 1791.

“No more fitting conclusion can be had … than to quote the language of the Father of his country. The days of persecution, of blood and of martyrdom were passed. Civil and soul liberty, the inalienable rights of man, enlargement, benevolent operations, educational advantages, and worldwide missionary endeavor, all had been made possible by the struggles of the past. The Baptists consulted George Washington to assist in the securing freedom of conscience. He replied:

  • “I have often expressed my sentiments, that every man, conducting himself as a good citizen, and being accountable to God alone for his religious opinions, ought to be protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience. While I recognize with satisfaction, that the religious society of which you are members have been, throughout America, uniformly and almost unanimously the firm friends to civil liberty, and the persevering promoters of our glorious revolution, I cannot hesitate to believe, faithful supporters of a free, yet efficient general government. Under this pleasing expectation, I rejoice to assure them, that they may rely on my best wishes and endeavors to advance their prosperity.”[8]

Endnotes

[1] Charles F. James, Documentary History of the Struggle for Religious Liberty in Virginia (Harrisonburg, VA.: Sprinkle Publications, 2007; First Published Lynchburg, VA.: J. P. Bell Company, 1900), p. 167.

[2] Isaac Backus, A History of New England With Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians called Baptists, Volume 2 (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, Previously published by Backus Historical Society, 1871), p. 340.

[3] Ibid.

[4] William G. McLoughlin, Isaac Backus and the American Piestic Tradition (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1967), pp. 198-199.

[5] Norman Cousins, In God We Trust (Kingsport, Tennessee: Kingsport Press, Inc., 1958), pp. 314-315.

[6] Leo Pfeffer, Church, State, and Freedom (Boston: The Beacon Press, 1953), p. 112.

[7] Ibid., citing Federalist Papers, Modern Library ed., 1937, p. 559.

[8] John T. Christian, A History of the Baptists, Volume I, (Texarkana, Ark.-Tex.: Bogard Press, 1922), pp. 392-393, citing Sparks, Writings of George Washington, SII, 155. Boston, 1855.

VIII. Backus Presents Appeal for Religious Liberty at Continental Congress; Debate in the Newspapers; Warren Association Activities; Backus Urges Religious Liberty in New Massachusetts Constitution; John Adams Works against Religious Liberty


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VII. The Revival Dies; Separate Churches Die; Baptist Denomination Grows; Formation of the Warren Association in 1770 To Obtain Religious Liberty; Isaac Backus’s Efforts; An Appeal to the Public

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IX. The Baptists Fight in the Courts; Reject Backus’s Advice; Backus Changes His Focus to Baptist Doctrines; Connecticut Continues To Persecute Dissidents; Connecticut Rejects Forced Establishment in 1818

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Jerald Finney
Copyright © February 28, 2018


Attempts to gain religious freedom continued. The Warren Association sent Isaac Backus to the Continental Congress in 1774 where he met with an Association of other Baptist churches from several adjacent colonies which had elected a large committee to assist. They presented their appeal for religious liberty. John Adams and Samuel Adams, neither of whom was a friend to separation of church and state, falsely asserted that Massachusetts had only a “very slender” establishment, hardly to be called an establishment, that the General Court was clear of blame and always there to hear complaints and grant reasonable help.[1] While Mr. Backus was gone, the lie was spread that he had gone to Philadelphia to break the union of the colonies.

All the time these happenings were going on, the issues were being debated in the newspapers. The Warren Association continued to publish to the public instances of persecution as well as to actively seek religious liberty from the government. The Warren Association presented a memorial on July 19, 1775, requesting religious liberty and pointing out the inconsistency of rebelling against England for taxing without representation while doing the same thing in the colonies. Ultimately, nothing came of this. In 1777, Mr. Backus prepared an address, which was supported by a large number from various denominations, urging religious liberty to the Assembly which had been empowered to frame a new Constitution which was accomplished in 1780. The Third Article of the new constitution “excluded all subordination of one religious sect to another,” but imprisonment, and confiscation of property from men who refused to acknowledge such subordination continued.[2]

In 1778, Mr. Backus wrote “Government and Liberty Described and Ecclesiastical Tyranny Exposed.” He quoted Charles Chauncy:

  • “We are in principle against all civil establishments in religion. It does not appear to us that God has entrusted the State with a right to make religious establishments…. We claim no right to desire the interposition of the State to establish that mode of worship, [church] government, or discipline we apprehend is most agreeable to the mind of Christ. We desire no other liberty than to be left unrestrained in the exercise of our principles in so far as we are good members of society.” This, said Backus, was all that Baptists asked. [3]
  • “Perhaps as a result of this tract, the General Assembly tried to conciliate the Baptists by appointing a Baptist minister to deliver the election sermon in May 1779. That minister, in his sermon, remained faithful to the principle of separation.”[4]

Massachusetts began efforts to adopt a new constitution in 1777. The proposed constitution was defeated, but a new effort which began in 1779 proved successful. John Adams worked against the Baptist position at the convention. Mr. Backus, although not a delegate, went to Boston to stand for Baptist principles during the constitutional convention. He lobbied, wrote newspaper articles, published new tracts, and informed his brethren of what was going on.[5]

Mr. Backus worked at the convention for a Bill of Rights. The first basic rights he listed were:

  • “All men are born equally free and independent, and have certain natural, inherent and unalienable rights, among which are the enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and persuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”
  • “As God is the only worthy object of all religious worship, and nothing can be true religion but a voluntary obedience unto his revealed will, of which each rational soul has an equal right to judge for itself; every person has an unalienable right to act in all religious affairs according to the full persuasion of his own mind, where others are not injured thereby. And civil rulers are so far from having any right to empower any person or persons to judge for others in such affairs, and to enforce their judgments with the sword, that their power ought to be exerted to protect all persons and societies, within their jurisdiction, from being injured or interrupted in the free enjoyment of his right, under any pretence whatsoever.”[6]

Backus’ position, although seeking the same end, was from a different point of view than that of George Mason, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.

“Three years earlier George Mason, with Jefferson’s approval and Madison’s amendments, had written a statement on religious freedom into the Bill of Rights in the Virginia Constitution:

  • ‘That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.’
  • “Backus’s tone was that of a New Light pietist; Mason’s that of an Enlightened latitudinarian. The Virginians spoke of the ‘Creator,’ Backus spoke of ‘God.’ Mason stressed reason and duty, Backus stressed ‘religious worship.’ Backus referred directly to God’s ‘revealed will’ and to the ‘soul.’ Mason omitted any reference to them.
  • “The difference was obvious and fundamental. The Virginia separationists were interested in leaving the mind free to follow its own rational direction. The Massachusetts pietists believed that separation was necessary in order to leave the ‘rational soul’ free to find ‘true religion’ as expressed in the Bible, ‘the revealed will’ of God. Implicit in both statements was a belief in God, in natural law, in man’s ability to find them. But the deistic separationists of Virginia trusted entirely to man’s reason and free will. The pietists insisted that only through the supernatural grace of God would men find the Truth that is in Jesus Christ. Though both views were individualistic, the deist was anthropocentric, the pietist theocentric.”[7]

The humanistic view of Mason, Jefferson, and Madison that man, through his reason could successfully address all his problems, and the humanistic goal of the “happiness of man” were inherent in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the two greatest governing documents of all time, although blended with Biblical principles. Neither the name of Jesus nor the goal of “the glory of God” was in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution.[8]

The Warren Association, on September 13, 1780, published a remonstrance, authored by Mr. Backus, against Article Three of the proposed constitution. The remonstrance stated, among other things, that the provision therein requiring the majority of each parish “the exclusive right of covenanting for the rest with religious teachers,” thereby granting a power no man has a right to; and further stating that “the Legislature, by this Article, are empowered to compel both civil and religious societies to make what they shall judge to be suitable provision for religious teachers in all cases where such provision shall not be made voluntarily.”[9] However, support for ministry could only be through voluntary support, not coercion that denied freedom of conscience. Backus and other Baptists “did not object to the view that Massachusetts should remain a Christian commonwealth; piety, religion, and morality could only be maintained with the institution of the public worship of God and of public instructions in piety, religion, and morality” were “generally diffused throughout the community.[10]

  • “Jefferson, Mason, and Madison, designing the creation of a secular state, not only opposed all such practices but also objected to the use of chaplains in the Congress and armed forces, the authorization by the state of certain days of fasting, thanksgiving, and prayer; and the compulsory religious services in state universities. Jefferson explicitly stated that America was not and ought not to be a Christian country…. Backus never qualified his belief in a Christian commonwealth. He consistently argued for ‘a sweet harmony between’ Church and State. ‘It is readily granted,’ he wrote in 1784, ‘that piety, religion, and morality are essentially necessary for the good order of civil society.’”[11]

Endnotes

[1] Isaac Backus, A History of New England With Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians called Baptists, Volume 2 (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, Previously published by Backus Historical Society, 1871), pp. 200-202, and fn. 1, p. 201.

[2] Ibid., pp. 203-204, 219-220, 225-229, 228-229.

[3] William G. McLoughlin, Isaac Backus and the American Piestic Tradition (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1967), p. 140. The entire tract is reproduced in Isaac Backus on Church, State, and Calvinism, Pamphlets, 1754-1789, Edited by William G. McLoughlin (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1968), pp. 345-365.

[4] Ibid., 141.

[5] Ibid., p. 142.

[6] Ibid., pp. 142-144.

[7] Ibid., pp. 142-144.

[8] Again, the Constitution is the greatest governing document ever conceived by a nation, but the Biblical principle of “leaven”—bad doctrine always corrupts the good—has proven again, by the national experience, to be true. To understand and address a problem, one must be willing to face all the facts head on.

[9] Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, fn. 2, pp. 229-230.

[10] McLoughlin, Isaac Backus and the American Piestic Tradition, pp. 148-149.

[11] Ibid., pp. 149-150.

VI. Separates and Baptists Desire To Meet Together; This Proves Untenable; Backus Leads Brethren to Start a Baptist Church at Titicut


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V. Backus Struggles with the Issues of Baptism and Covenant Theology; Rejects Infant Baptism and Covenant Theology

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VII. The Revival Dies; Separate Churches Die; Baptist Denomination Grows; Formation of the Warren Association in 1770 To Obtain Religious Liberty; Isaac Backus’s Efforts; An Appeal to the Public

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Jerald Finney
Copyright © February 28, 2018


At first the Separatists and Baptists desired to meet together. This proved untenable.

  • “[They] were bound together by the closest ties. The [Baptists] left the [Separate Congregational churches] with no ill feeling but with heartiest love, and this love continued, on both sides, after their separation. Their members had been converted together in the Great Awakening; together they had come out from the Standing Order; together they had suffered and were still suffering for the truth; they had the same enemies and oppressors; they felt the force of the same unjust and cruel laws; their plundered goods were sold at the same auctions, and their bodies confined in the same prisons; they had many kindred views and feelings, by which they sympathized most closely, and in which there were no others to sympathize with them. Moreover, they mutually desired inter-communion. Council after council and conference after conference recommended it, and there seemed to be no voice against it. And yet it failed. Practical difficulties arose…. The truth could not be escaped that Baptist churches, by renouncing infant baptism and sprinkling, and then practically recognizing them again as a proper declaration of discipleship and initiation to membership in the visible church, placed themselves in a position of direct inconsistency. One by one, reluctantly, but at last universally, they abandoned the untenable ground.—ED.”[1]

By 1754, “the alliance between the two groups within Separatism was practically at an end, and the Baptist members left to form new churches or join existing ones.”[2]

A Baptist church was instituted in Middleborough, Massachusetts by a number of brethren led by Mr. Backus from the Titicut Separatist church who were convinced communion should be limited to believers baptized upon a profession of their own faith. On July 23, 1756, Mr. Backus was installed as their pastor.

“He … published a discourse from Gal. iv. 31, to shew that Abraham’s first son that was circumcised was the son of the bond-woman, an emblem of the national church of the Jews; in distinction from regenerate souls, the spiritual seed of Abraham, of whom the Christian church was constituted; into which neither natural birth, nor the doings of others, can rightly bring any one soul, without its own consent. Upon these principles was the first Baptist church in Plymouth county then founded[.]”[3]


Endnotes

[1] Isaac Backus, A History of New England With Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians called Baptists, Volume 2 (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, Previously published by Backus Historical Society, 1871), fn. 1, p. 115; on pp. 116-119 Backus gives further arguments.

[2] William L. Lumpkin, Baptist Foundations in the South (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2006), p. 18.

[3] Backus, Volume 2, pp. 117-118.

V. Backus Struggles with the Issues of Baptism and Covenant Theology; Rejects Infant Baptism and Covenant Theology


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Jerald Finney
Copyright © February 28, 2018


Isaac Backus found the answer by studying the Bible.

Backus struggled with the issue of baptism, studied Scripture, rejected infant baptism, and was baptized by dipping on August 22, 1751.[1] He set out to refute the anti-pedobaptist position by first turning to the Bible, and then to the claims of Baptist scholars in England that infant baptism was a corruption brought into the Christian church in the 2nd or 3rd century. What he found surprised him.

Next, Backus examined the Covenant Theology which lay at the heart of New England Puritanism. The relevance of this theology to Backus was mainly its effect on the church-state issue:[2]

  • First, “[T]he Jewish church was clearly a national church, a theocracy in which Moses and Aaron ruled together, and thus the Puritans were able to utilize the covenant theology to justify their ecclesiastical laws and their system of territorial parishes and religious taxes. Second, the covenant theology provided the Puritans with justifications for the Halfway Covenant, thus polluting the purity of the mystical body of Christ. And in the third place the covenant theology, by emphasizing that grace ran ‘through the loins of godly parents,’ that the baptized children of visible saints were somehow more likely than others to obtain salvation, thereby established a kind of hereditary spiritual aristocracy; it also undermined the sovereignty of God by implying that God was bound by this covenant to save certain persons rather than others. [Etc.]”[3]

The Puritans supported the unity of the Abrahamic Covenant in Romans 11.17.

  • “Here, the apostle Paul spoke of the Christian covenant as being grafted on to the Jewish covenant as a branch is grafted on to an olive tree, from whence the Puritans ‘argued the right of professors now to baptize their children, because the Jews circumcised theirs.’ This Backus rejected as misinterpretation. ‘The Jews were broken off thro’ unbelief, and the Gentiles were grafted in, and stand only by faith.’ Faith was essential to baptism. What Puritans stressed as organic continuity, Backus and the Baptists stressed as a complete break.”[4]
Isaac Backus rejected Covenant Theology.

Backus concluded that the Separates must explicitly reject the Covenant Theology, the whole conception of the corporate Christian state, which the Puritans had so painstakingly constructed in the wilderness of New England. Backus decided against infant baptism and was baptized. “[H]e rejected the Covenant Theology of the Puritans by arguing as the Baptists had long done that the Bible contained two covenants, the old Covenant of Works made with the Jews, and the Covenant of Grace made with those who believe in Christ….” “[T]he Puritans had confused the gospel of grace with the doctrine of works and transformed the gospel church of visible saints into a national church with a birthright membership.”[5] “Backus and the Baptists stressed the discontinuity, the antithetical nature of the two, the complete and distinct break between the past and the present dispensations. That Americans were ready to grasp this new outlook after 1740 and to pursue it to its logical conclusions marks the real break with the Old World, the medieval mind and the Puritan ethos….”[6]


Endnotes

[1] Isaac Backus, A History of New England With Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians called Baptists, Volume 2 (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, Previously published by Backus Historical Society, 1871), pp. 108-111.

[2] William G. McLoughlin, Isaac Backus and the American Piestic Tradition (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1967), pp. 61-63.

[3] Ibid., pp. 62-64.

[4] Ibid., p. 76.

[5] Ibid., pp. 73-76.

[6] Ibid., p. 74.

III. The Puritan Tradition in Connecticut; The Saybrook Platform; Persecutions and Inequities Drive Many to the New Light Position as Separatists; Many Became Baptists


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 Backus Becomes a Baptist Leader; His Differences with the Established Church; Taxes Supporting the Established Church

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Jerald Finney
Copyright © February 28, 2018


The church and state were interwoven in New England. Into the eighteenth century, the Puritan tradition continued in greater strength in Connecticut than elsewhere. The state taxed all citizens to support religion. In 1708, the Connecticut legislature ordained the Saybrook Platform. Under it, county associations of ministers met frequently to deal with matters of common interest, regional bodies called consociations were to handle all kinds of ecclesiastical difficulties, and a general state association exercised a general superintendency over churches and ministers. Under the Saybrook Platform, the county associations approved, licensed, and ordained the ministers of the parishes.[1] The state supported the actions of the county associations, and could deny the right of a minister to preach and collect his salary.[2]

[SAYBROOK PLATFORM]. A Confession of Faith Owned and Consented to by the Elders and Messengers of the Churches in the Colony of Connecticut in New-England, Assembled by Delegation at Say Brook September 9th, 1708. New-London: Thomas Short, 1710.

Various struggles arose. In 1742 and 1743, laws were passed forbidding itinerant preachers from preaching without permission of the parish minister with penalty of imprisonment, excluding settled ministers who preached in any other parish without consent of the parish minister from any benefit of the laws for their support, removing from Connecticut any minister from any other colony who preached in Connecticut, and giving the legislature authority to license dissenting churches which complied with the British Toleration Act of 1689.[3] The Legislature disciplined members of the Council and General Assembly known to sympathize with the New Lights. “Unauthorized schools and colleges were forbidden and only university graduates were eligible for ministerial standing before the law.”[4] The county associations began to act. The New Haven Consociation in 1742 expelled pastors of established churches for preaching to a group of Separates and Baptists against the wishes of the established minister. In Canterbury, Windham County the majority of the church, New Lights, voted for a certain man to be pastor, but the Old Lights who were the majority in the parish voted for another. By law, both the church and parish had to concur, but the Windham Consociation declared that the minority of Old Lights in the church were the true church and ordained their choice.[5] In Plainfield, the Windham Consociation “reversed the position it had taken in Canterbury and sided with a minority of Old Lights in the church to choose an Old Light minister over the objection of the majority of New Lights in the parish.”[6]

The inequities and the persecutions by the established church and civil government resulted in more and more defections to the New Light position. The civil government used repressive measures to compel the Separates to return to the fold. “Revivalistic ministers were shut out of meeting houses; members were moved from civic office and, when they refused to pay taxes for support of the regular ministry, imprisoned.”[7] At first most Separates that left the state-churches seemed destined to become Baptists. However, great disagreement arose between those who still adhered to infant baptism and those who insisted upon believer’s baptism—baptism after a confession of faith only. Because of this disagreement, the Baptist members left the Separate churches and formed their own churches.

This Separate movement had enduring consequences. One writer appropriately noted:

  • “[T]he Separatist movement is not appreciated as it deserves. We have too nearly forgotten our obligations to those men who dared to break away from the corrupt and worldly churches of the Standing Order, though they were armed with all the power of the State, of which they were a part, and to establish other churches in which vital godliness was the condition of membership. It was a transition movement, it is true, and of necessity only temporary, but its results were enduring. Many of the Baptist churches in New England spring from it directly, and through them, indirectly, almost all the rest; and other evangelical churches are largely indebted to it for their vitality and efficiency.—ED.”[8]

Endnotes

[1] William L. Lumpkin, Baptist Foundations in the South (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2006), p. 11; Isaac Backus, A History of New England With Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians called Baptists, Volume 1 (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, Previously published by Backus Historical Society, 1871), pp. 472-474; Isaac Backus, A History of New England With Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians called Baptists, Volume 2 (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, Previously published by Backus Historical Society, 1871), p. 319.

[2] William G. McLoughlin, Isaac Backus and the American Piestic Tradition (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1967), p. 24.

[3] Backus, Volume 2, pp. 319-320.

[4] Lumpkin, p. 15; see also Backus, Volume 2, p. 57, fn. 3.

[5] Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, pp. 68-74; McLoughlin, Isaac Backus and the American Piestic Tradition, p. 26.

[6] McLoughlin, Isaac Backus and the American Piestic Tradition, pp. 26-27.

[7] Lumpkin, p. 14, citing Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, p. 176.

[8] Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, fn. 1, p. 64.

IX. 1663 Rhode Island Charter; Treatment of Quakers in Rhode Island; Influence of Rhode Island on Religious Liberty


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Jerald Finney
Copyright © February 27, 2018


1663 Rhode Island Charter

Mr. Clarke remained in England until, on July 8, 1663, he secured a new charter from Charles II. “By this Charter all the powers of government were conferred on the Colony, the King not having reserved to himself the right of revising its proceedings.”[1] This charter was in effect until the constitution, which was adopted in November 1842, became operative the first Tuesday of May 1843. In addition to other matters, the charter cleared up land disputes with Massachusetts and some of the other colonies, provided for the organization of the government, and provided for freedom of conscience.[2] That charter stated, in part:

  • Inhabitants of Rhode Island “pursuing, with peaceable and loyal minds, their sober, serious, and religious intentions, of godly edifying themselves, and one another, in the holy Christian faith and worship, as they were persuaded … did … transport themselves out of this kingdom of England into America,” and did then “leave their desirable stations and habitations, and with excessive labor and travel, hazard and charge did transport themselves into the midst of Indian natives” … “whereby, as is hoped, there may, in time, by the blessing of God upon their endeavors be laid a sure foundation of happiness to all America: And whereas, in their humble address, they have freely declared, that it is much on their hearts (if they may be permitted) to hold forth a lively experiment, that a most flourishing civil state may stand and best be maintained, and that among our English subjects, with a full liberty in religious concernments; and that true piety rightly grounded upon gospel principles, will give the best and greatest security to sovereignty, and will lay in the hearts of men the strongest obligations to true loyalty: … and to secure them in the free exercise and enjoyment of all their civil and religious rights, appertaining to them, as our loving subjects; and to preserve unto them that liberty in true Christian faith and worship of God, … that no person within the said colony, at any time hereafter shall be any wise molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question, for any differences in opinion in matters of religion, and do not actually disturb the civil peace of our said colony.”[3] [Emphasis mine.]

The charter granted:

“unprecedented liberties in religious concerns. Moreover representation for the people and the limit of power to public officials provided a basic check and balance to popular sovereignty. The Royal Charter of 1663 proved to be distinctive, installing safeguards in the election process through the governing body of the State Assembly, made up of a governor, deputy-governor, assistants, and representatives from each of the towns,”[4] each elected by the people.

The most important Biblical principle of the government they founded was incorporated into the supreme law of the United States of America by the First Amendment to United States Constitution.

As to the effect of the Rhode Island government thus established, John Callender wrote in 1838:

  • “The civil State has flourished, as well as if secured by ever so many penal laws, and in inquisition to put them to execution. Our civil officers have been chosen out of every religious society, and the public peace has been as well preserved, and the public counsels as well conducted, as we could have expected, had we been assisted by ever so many religious tests.
  • “All profaneness and immorality are punished by the laws made to suppress them; and while these laws are well executed, speculative opinions or modes of worship can never disturb or injure the peace of a State that allows all its subjects an equal liberty of conscience. Indeed, it is not variety of opinions, or separation in worship, that makes disorders and confusions in government. It is the unjust, unnatural, and absurd attempt to force all to be of one opinion, or to feign and dissemble that they are; or the cruel and impious punishing those, who cannot change their opinions without light or reason, and will not dissemble against all reason and conscience. It is the wicked attempt to force men to worship God in a way they believe He hath neither commanded nor will accept; and the restraining them from worshipping Him in a method they think He has instituted and made necessary for them, and in which alone they can be sincere worshippers, and accepted of God; in which alone, they can find comfort and peace of conscience, and approve themselves before God; in which alone, they can be honest men and good Christians. Persecution will ever occasion confusion and disorder, or if every tongue is forced to confess, and every knee to bow to the power of the sword: this itself is the greatest of all disorders, and the worst of confusions in the Kingdom of Christ Jesus.
  • “[T]his Colony with some since formed on the same model, have proved that the terrible fears that barbarity would break in, where no particular forms of worship or discipline are established by the civil power, are really vain and groundless; and that Christianity can subsist without a national Church, or visible Head, and without being incorporated into the State. It subsisted for the first three hundred years; yea, in opposition and defiance to all the powers of hell and earth. And it is amazing to hear those who plead for penal laws, and the magistrate’s right and duty to govern the Church of Christ, to hear such persons call those early times the golden age of Christianity.”[5]

Mr. Clarke, on his return to Rhode Island, was elected Deputy-Governor three successive years. “He continued the esteemed pastor of the first Baptist Church of Newport, till his death” on April 20, 1676.[6] Of Mr. Clarke, Isaac Backus wrote: He “left as spotless a character as any man I know of.”[7] “The testimony which Backus proceeds to give of the purity of [Mr. Clarke’s] character and to his good name, even among his enemies, has been fully corroborated by later writers.”[8] “To no man, except Roger Williams, is Rhode Island more indebted than to him.”[9]

“An eminent American historian justly observed:

  • “The annals of Rhode-Island, if written in the spirit of philosophy, would exhibit the forms of society under a peculiar aspect. Had the territory of the State corresponded to the importance and singularity of the principles of its early existence, the world would have been filled with wonder at the phenomena of its early history.”[10]

An example of the manner in which Rhode Island honored the doctrine of freedom of conscience is the way they upheld the standard in regards to the Quakers. Other colonies persecuted the Quakers from 1656 until 1661. Massachusetts hanged four Quakers who returned to the colony after being banished. The Commissioners of the United Colonies threatened Rhode Island with cutting off all commerce or trade with them if Rhode Island did not likewise persecute the Quakers by enacting penal legislation against them. Rhode Island “refused, and pointed out that it had no law for punishing people because of their utterances ‘concerning the things and ways of God, as to salvation and to eternal condition.’”[11] The Commissioners of Rhode Island notified John Clarke. As a result, King Charles II ordered, “neither capital nor corporal punishment should be inflicted on Quakers, but that offenders should be sent to England.”[12] This decree of the King probably saved the lives of other dissenters.

Not all that was happening was for naught. Isaac Backus wrote, “It is readily granted that the sentiments of Mr. Williams and Mr. Clarke, about religious liberty, have had a great spread since that day, so that men of a contrary mind cannot carry their oppressive schemes so far now as they did then,”[13] but they still had a ways to go to achieve religious liberty. It was not until 1838 that John Callender declared “[t]he principles of religious freedom, which they [of Rhode Island] clearly and consistently maintained, are now the rule of action adopted by all Christian sects.”[14]


Endnotes

[1] John Callender, The Civil and Religious Affairs of the Colony of Rhode-Island (Providence: Knowles, Vose & Company, 1838), Appendix XXI, pp. 261-262.

[2] Isaac Backus, A History of New England With Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians called Baptists, Volume 1 (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, Previously published by Backus Historical Society, 1871), pp. 277-280.

[3] See Callender, Appendix No. XXI, pp. 241-262 for the complete charter; see also, James R. Beller, America in Crimson Red: The Baptist History of America (Arnold, Missouri: Prairie Fire Press, 2004), Appendix D, pp. 505-506.

[4] 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.), pp. 78-79.

[5] Callender, pp. 163-164.

[6] Ibid., Appendix IX, p. 211.

[7] Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, p. 348.

[8] Ibid., fn. 1, pp. 348-349.

[9] Callender, p. 212.

[10] Ibid., Appendix XVI, p. 230, citing Bancroft’s History of the United States, vol. 1, p. 380.

[11] Leo Pfeffer, Church, State, and Freedom (Boston: The Beacon Press, 1953), p. 75, citing Evarts B. Greene, Religion and the State :(New York: New York University Press, 1941), pp. 24-25.

[12] Callender, Appendix XIX, pp. 234-236.

[13] Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, pp. 202-203.

[14] Callender, Appendix XIX, p. 238.

VII. Dr. Clarke’s Leadership in Rhode Island; Puritan Persecution of Obadiah Holmes


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Jerald Finney
Copyright © February 27, 2018


Dr. John Clarke

The first Baptist church in Newport was formed under the ministry of Dr. John Clarke. According to some who suppose that the church was founded by Clarke and his company upon their arrival in Rhode Island, it could have been established as early as 1638.[1]

Under the leadership of Dr. Clarke, Rhode Island became a government of religious liberty. When elected General Treasurer and General Assistant for Newport in 1650, Dr. Clarke added law and politics to his already crowded professions of medicine and religious ministry. “As a servant of the people, Dr. Clarke would steer the colony toward a government of unprecedented civil and religious liberty—convinced that any other move would be in the direction of a self-centered autocratic theocracy.”[2] The people followed him as he steered a course between democracy with its “attending threat of anarchy and all of its evils of disorder, violence, and ultimate chaos,” and aristocracy and its restrictions on all forms of liberty.[3]

Dr. Clarke and two friends were persecuted when they went to Massachusetts in 1651. He, Obadiah Holmes,[4] and John Crandal went to visit a friend in Boston. They were on “an errand of mercy and had traveled all the way from their church in Newport to visit one of their aging and blind members, William Witter.”[5] They stayed over, and held a service on Sunday. During that service, they were arrested and jailed. Before they were brought to trial, they were forced to attend a Congregational Puritan religious meeting. There, they refused to remove their hats, and Dr. Clarke stood and explained why they declared their dissent from them.

They were charged with denying infant baptism, holding a public worship, administering the Lord’s Supper to an excommunicated person, to another under admonition, proselytizing the Baptist way and rebaptizing such converts, and failing to post security or bail and other ecclesiastical infractions. He asked for a public debate on his religious views, which the Puritans avoided. “Clarke said they were examined in the morning of July 31 and sentenced that afternoon without producing any accuser or witness against them,” and that “Governor John Endicott even insulted the accused and denounced them as ‘trash.’”[6] Dr. Clarke was “fined twenty pounds or to be well whipped;” Mr. Crandal was fined five pounds, only for being with the others; and Mr. Holmes was held in prison, where sentence of a fine of thirty pounds or to be well whipped was entered. [7] A friend paid Mr. Clarke’s fine. Mr. Clarke and Mr. Crandal were released.

The beating of Obadiah Holmes by the Puritans in Massachusetts

Mr. Holmes was beaten mercilessly. His infractions were denying infant baptism, proclaiming that the church was not according to the gospel of Jesus Christ, receiving the sacrament while excommunicated by the church, and other spiritual infractions.[8] Mr. Holmes refused to pay his fine, prepared for the whipping by “communicat[ing] with [his] God, commit[ting] himself to him, and beg[ging] strength from him.”[9] Holmes was confined over two months before his whipping. He related the experience of being whipped for the Lord as follows, in part:

  • “And as the man began to lay the strokes upon my back, I said to the people, though my flesh should fail, and my spirit should fail, yet my God would not fail. So it please the Lord to come in, and so to fill my heart and tongue as a vessel full, and with an audible voice I broke forth praying unto the Lord not to lay this sin to their charge; and telling the people, that now I found he did not fail me, and therefore now I should trust him forever who failed me not; for in truth, as the strokes fell upon me, I had such a spiritual manifestation of God’s presence as the like thereof I never had nor felt, nor can with fleshly tongue express; and the outward pain was so removed from me, that indeed I am not able to declare it to you, it was so easy to me, that I could well bear it, yea, and in a manner felt it not although it was grievous as the spectators said, the man striking with all his strength (yea spitting in [on] his hand three times as many affirmed) with a three-corded whip, giving me therewith thirty strokes. When he had loosed me from the post, having joyfulness in my heart, and cheerfulness in my countenance, as the spectators observed, I told the magistrates, You have struck me as with roses; and said moreover, Although the Lord hath made it easy to me, yet I pray God it may not be laid to your charge.”[10]

Mr. Holmes “could take no rest but as he lay upon his knees and elbows, not being able to suffer any part of his body to touch the bed whereupon he lay.”[11]

Two men who shook Mr. Holmes’ hand after the beating were, without trial and without being informed of any written law they had broken, sentenced to a fine of forty shillings or to be whipped. Although they refused to pay the fines, others paid their fines and were released.[12]

Of course, the Puritans were fully persuaded of the righteousness of persecution. Here are two examples of their reasoning. Sir Richard Saltonstall wrote to Messrs. Cotton and Wilson of Boston condemning them for this tyranny in Boston, for “compelling any in matters of worship to do that whereof they are not fully persuaded” thus making “them sin, for so the apostle (Rom. 14 and 23) tells us, and many are made hypocrites thereby,” etc.[13] Mr. Cotton replied in part:

“If it do make men hypocrites, yet better be hypocrites than profane persons. Hypocrites give God part of his due, the outward man, but the profane person giveth God neither outward nor inward man. We believe there is a vast difference between men’s inventions and God’s institutions; we fled from men’s inventions, to which we else should have been compelled; we compel none to men’s inventions. If our ways (rigid ways as you call them) have laid us low in the hearts of God’s people, yea, and of the saints (as you style them) we do not believe it is any part of their saintship.”[14]

A second example occurred when some protested being taxed to support the state-church with which they did not agree. The main point of the answer received was as follows:

  • “What we demand of you is equal and right; what you demand of us is evil and sinful; and hence we have the golden rule upon our side, while you are receding and departing from it; for if we were in an error, and out of the right way, as we see and know that you are in several respects, and you see and know it is of us, as we do of you, we think the golden rule would oblige you to tell us of our error, and not let us alone to go on peaceably in it, that is without proper means to recover and reclaim us; whether by the laws of God, or the good and wholesome laws of the land, as we now treat you.” [15]

Endnotes

[1] Isaac Backus, A History of New England With Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians called Baptists, Volume 1 (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, Previously published by Backus Historical Society, 1871), pp. 125-26 and fn. 1, p. 125; see also James R. Beller, America in Crimson Red: The Baptist History of America (Arnold, Missouri: Prairie Fire Press, 2004), p p. 31-33. Mr. Beller argues that the Baptist church in Newport, meeting in the wilderness in 1637 with Dr. John Clarke as pastor, was the first Baptist church to meet in America. Mr. Beller considers the writings of Isaac Backus, John Callender, and John Winthrop on this subject. For more on this, see Did Roger Williams Start The First Baptist Church In America? Is the “Baptist Church the Bride of Christ? What About Landmarkism or the Baptist Church Succession Theory By Jim Fellure and Baptist History IN AMERICA Vindicated: The First Baptist Church in America/A Resurfaced Issue of Controversy/The Facts and Importance By Pastor Joshua S. Davenport

[2] 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. 35.

[3] Ibid., pp. 35-36.

[4] Obadiah Holmes moved from England to Massachusetts. He and several others decided the Baptist way was right and were baptized. He and others were excommunicated in 1650. They moved to Rhode Island where Mr. Holmes became a member of the church pastored by Dr. John Clarke.

[5] Asher, p. 57; See John Clarke, Ill News from New-England or A Narative of New-Englands Persecution (Paris, Ark.: The Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc., Reprint: 1st printed in 1652), pp. 27-65 for a full account of the event; John T. Christian, A History of the Baptists, Volume I, (Texarkana, Ark.-Tex.: Bogard Press, 1922), p p. 379-381.

[6] Ibid., p. 59, citing John Clarke, 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 (London: Printed by Henry Hills, 1652), pp. 30-31, 33.

[7] Backus, Volume 1, pp. 180, 187; Asher, p. 60.

[8] Ibid., fn. 1, p. 189.

[9] Ibid., p. 190.

[10] Ibid., p. 192; Clarke, pp. 50-51.

[11] Ibid., fn. 1, p. 193. (This from a manuscript of Governor Joseph Jencks).

[12] See Clarke, pp. 55-62 for the personal accounts of John Spur and John Hazell.

[13] Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, pp. 198-199.

[14] Ibid., p. 200.

[15] Ibid., p. 201.

V. Roger Williams and the Providence Compact


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Jerald Finney
Copyright © February 27, 2018


In August of 1638, the people of Providence approved the first public document establishing government without interference in religious matters, the Providence Compact:

“We whose names are here underwritten being desirous to inhabit in the town of Providence, do promise to submit ourselves in active or passive obedience to all such orders or agreement as shall be made for public good to the body in an orderly way, by the major consent of the present inhabitants, masters of families, incorporated together into a township, and such others whom they shall admit into the same, only in civil things.[1] [Signed by Stukely Westcoat, William Arnold, Thomas James, Robert Cole, John Greene, John Throckmorton, William Harris, William Carpenter, Thomas Olney, Francis Weston, Richard Watearman, and Ezekiel Holliman.]

Providence Compact

As James R. Beller proclaims, the document was “the first of a series of American political documents promulgating government by the consent of the governed and liberty of conscience.[2] Thus, liberty of conscience was the basis for legislation in Rhode Island, and its annals have remained to this day [when Underhill wrote this] unsullied by the blot of persecution.[3]

Rhode Island was ruled according to the original covenant, “til on January 2, 1639, an assembly of the freemen said:

“By the consent of the body it is agreed that such who shall be chosen to the place of Eldership, they are to assist the Judge in the execution of the justice and judgment, for the regulating and ordering of all offences and offenders, and for the drawing up and determining of all such rules and laws as shall be according to God, which may conduce to the good and welfare of the commonweal; and to them is committed by the body the whole care and charge of all the affairs thereof; and that the Judge together with the Elders, shall rule and govern according to the general rules [rule] of the word of God, when they have no particular rule from God’s word, by the body prescribed as a direction unto them in the case. And further, it is agreed and consented unto, that the Judge and [with the] Elders shall be accountable unto the body once every quarter of the year, (when as the body shall be assembled) of all such cases, actions or [and] rules which have passed through their hands, by they to be scanned and weighed by the word of Christ; and if by the body or any of them, the Lord shall be pleased to dispense light to the contrary of what by the Judge or [and] Elders hath been determined formerly, that then and there it shall be repealed as the act of the body; and if it be otherwise, that then it shall stand, (till further light concerning it) for the present, to be according to God, and the tender care of indulging [indulgent] fathers.”[4]

Banished by the Puritans from Mass. colony in the 1630s. Started R.I. colony, a government with religious freedom.

In March 1639, Mr. Williams attempted to become a Baptist, together with several more of his companions in exile.[5] However, since he was never Scripturally baptized, he could not have been a Baptist. Williams, being familiar with “the General Baptist view of a proper administrator of baptism, namely, that two believers had the right to begin baptism,” [6] was baptized by immersion[7] by one Holliman. He, in turn, baptized ten others. Thus, according to some accounts, was founded the first Baptist church in America.[8] However, the fact that Roger Williams was not a genuine Baptist and many other facts prove that Dr. John Clarke started the First Baptist Church in America.[9]

Mr. Williams stepped down as pastor of the church after only a few months because his baptism was not administered by an apostle, but the church continued.[10] Isaac Backus commented on the requirement of apostolic succession for baptism at length, stating, “And if we review the text (II Tim. ii. 2-Ed.) that is now so much harped upon, we shall find that the apostolic succession is in the line of ‘faithful men;’ and no others are truly in it, though false brethren have sometimes crept in unawares.”[11]

  • Williams “turned seeker, i.e. to wait for the new apostles to restore Christianity. He believed the Christian religion to have been so corrupted and disfigured in what he called the ‘apostasy, as that there was no ministry of an ordinary vocation left in the church, but prophecy,’ and that there was need of a special commission, to restore the modes of positive worship, according to the original institution. It does not appear to [Mr. Callender], that he had any doubt of the true mode, and proper subjects of baptism, but that no man had any authority to revive the practice of the sacred ordinances, without a new and immediate commission.”[12]

Endnotes

[1] James R. Beller, America in Crimson Red: The Baptist History of America (Arnold, Missouri: Prairie Fire Press, 2004), p. 13, citing Isaac Backus, A History of New England With Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians called Baptists, Volume 1 (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, Previously published by Backus Historical Society, 1871), p. 74; Thomas Armitage, The History of the Baptists, Volume 2 (Springfield, Mo.: Baptist Bible College, 1977 Reprint), p. 643.

[2] Beller, America in Crimson Red, p. 13.

[3] Roger Williams and Edward Bean Underhill, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience Discussed and Mr. Cotton’s Letter Examined and Answered (London: Printed for the Society, by J. Haddon, Castle Street, Finsbury, 1848), p. xxviii.

[4] Backus, Volume I, pp. 427-428.

[5] Williams and Underhill, p. xxvi; Isaac Backus, Volume 1, pp. 86-89.

[6] John T. Christian, A History of the Baptists, Volume I, (Texarkana, Ark.-Tex.: Bogard Press, 1922), p. 371.

[7] Ibid., pp. 372-373.

[8] “Others suspect “that Mr. Williams did not form a Church of the Anabaptists, and that he never joined with the Baptist Church there. Only, that he allowed them to be nearest the scripture rule, and true primitive practice, as to the mode and subject of baptism. [Some who] were acquainted with the original settlers never heard that Mr. Williams formed the Baptist Church there, but always understood that [certain others] were the first founders of that church…. [Some asserted that this church hereupon crumbled to pieces.] But [John Callender] believe[d] this to be a mistake, in fact, for it certainly appears, there was a flourishing church of the Baptists there, a few years after the time of the supposed breaking to pieces; and it is known by the names of the members, as well as by tradition, they were some of the first settlers at Providence[.]” Callender, p. 110-111.

[9] See Graves, J.R., The First Baptist Church in America not Founded by Roger Williams. (Texarkana, AR/TX: Baptist Sunday School Committee, 1928).  See, for more insights, Christian, Volume I, pp. 374-375. For a more recent study, see also Joshua S. Davenport, Baptist History in America Vindicated. For more on the matter of the First Baptist Church in America, see Did Roger Williams Start The First Baptist Church In America? Is the “Baptist Church the Bride of Christ? What About Landmarkism or the Baptist Church Succession Theory By Jim Fellure and Baptist History IN AMERICA Vindicated: The First Baptist Church in America/A Resurfaced Issue of Controversy/The Facts and Importance By Pastor Joshua S. Davenport (a review of the two books mentioned).

[10] Williams and Underhill, p. xxvii; Isaac Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, p. 89; Christian, Volume I, pp. 373-374.

[11] Isaac Backus, A History of New England With Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians called Baptists, Volume 1 (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, Previously published by Backus Historical Society, 1871), p. 91.

[12] John Callender, The Civil and Religious Affairs of the Colony of Rhode-Island (Providence: Knowles, Vose & Company, 1838), pp. 110-111.