Tag Archives: Louis Franklin Asher

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 Churches Under Christ Ministry



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

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

Click here for links to all lessons on The Baptists in Rhode Island.


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.

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


A Publication of Churches Under Christ Ministry



Previous Lesson:
VI. Roger Williams Secures the 1644 Rhode Island Charter; Dissemination of Knowledge: The Bloudy Tenet of Persecution for Conscious Sake

Next Lesson:
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

Click here for links to all lessons on The Baptists in Rhode Island.


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.

The Baptists in Rhode Island


Jerald Finney
Copyright © December 31, 2012


Click here to go to the entire history of religious liberty in America.


Note. This is a modified version of Section IV, Chapter 6 of God Betrayed: Separation of Church and State/The Biblical Principles and the American Application. Audio Teachings on the History of the First Amendment has links to the audio teaching of Jerald Finney on the history of the First Amendment.


The Baptists in Rhode Island

Contents

I. Introduction
II.
Treatment of Roger Williams by Covenant Theologians
III.
Roger Williams: His arrival in Massachusetts; beliefs and differences with the Puritans; banishment; founding of Rhode Island, the first government in history with complete religious freedom
IV.
Rhode Island: Settlement, hated by Massachusetts, Dr. John Clarke, the Portsmouth and Providence Compacts, the question of the first Baptist church in America, the 1644 and 1663 Rhode Island charters
V.
More on Puritan persecutions including the beating of Obadiah Holmes and Puritan rationale for persecution
VI.
Dr. John Clarke’s beliefs concerning separation of church and state and his successful efforts to secure 1663 Charter of Rhode Island which granted “unprecedented liberties in religious matters”
VII.
Conclusion: The effect of the Rhode Island government thus established


I. Introduction

As pointed out by John Callender in 1838:

“Bishop Sanderson says [] that ‘the Rev. Archbishop Whitgift, and learned Hooker, men of great judgment, and famous in their times, did long since foresee and declare their fear, that if ever Puritanism should prevail among us, it would soon draw in Anabaptism after it.—This Cartwright and the Disciplinarians denied, and were offended at.—But these good men judged right; they considered, only as prudent men, that Anabaptism had its rise from the same principles the Puritans held, and its growth from the same course they took; together with the natural tendency of their principles and practices toward it especially that ONE PRINCIPLE, as it was then by them misunderstood that the scripture was adequate agendorum regula, so as nothing might be lawfully done, without express warrant, either from some command or example therein contained…” (John Callender, The Civil and Religious Affairs of the Colony of Rhode-Island (Providence: Knowles, Vose & Company, 1838), pp. 113-114).

History certainly proves that to have been the case in the English colonies, as shown by the establishment of Rhode Island. Biblical disagreement with Puritan theology was the force behind the creation of the first government in history with religious freedom, the government of the colony of Rhode Island.

“Mr. R[oger] Williams and Mr. J[ohn] Clark[e], two fathers of [Rhode Island], appear among the first who publicly avowed that Jesus Christ is king in his own kingdom, and that no others had authority over his subjects, in the affairs of conscience and eternal salvation” (Ibid., p. 70). “Roger Williams was the first person in modern Christendom to maintain the doctrine of religious liberty and unlimited toleration” (Ibid., Appendix IV, p. 190).  Although America owes its present form of government to Roger Williams, along with Dr. John Clarke, as much or more than to any men, Mr. Williams is vilified and Dr. Clarke is generally ignored by Peter Marshall and David Manuel, who assert, against the facts, that the “Puritans were the people who, more than any other, made possible America’s foundation as a Christian nation” (Peter Marshall and David Manuel, The Light and the Glory, (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1977), p. 146).


II. Treatment of Roger Williams by Covenant Theologians

Because Roger Williams disagreed with those in the established church in Massachusetts, Marshall and Manuel condemn him as a hopeless heretic. For example, Marshall and Manuel, in condemning and lying about Williams, reveal that the Christian nationalist or revisionist condemns, in a way that praises their own views, anyone who disagrees with their contorted interpretation of Scripture and justifies the intervention of the civil government, at the behest of the established church, into spiritual matters. Marshall and Manuel sharply criticize Williams for his views and for refusing to change his views because those views were contrary to those of the established church in Massachusetts:

  • “Williams insistence upon absolute purity in the church, beyond all normal extremes, grew out of his own personal obsession with having to be right—in doctrine, in conduct, in church associations—in short, in every area of life. This need to be right colored everything he did or thought; indeed, it drove him into one untenable position after another. For the alternative—facing up to one’s self-righteousness and repenting of it on a continuing basis—was more than he could bring himself to accept.
  • “For Williams, then, Christianity became so super-spiritualized that it was removed from all contact with the sinful realities of daily living. In his view, the saints of New England belonged to a spiritual Israel, in the same way as did all Christians everywhere. But there should be no talk of any attempt on God’s part to build His Kingdom on earth through imperfect human beings. For Winthrop and the others to even suggest that God might be creating a new Israel in this Promised Land of America was to ‘… pull God and Christ and Spirit out of Heaven, and subject them unto natural, sinful, inconstant men…’ (Ibid., p. 193).”

Never do they glorify Roger Williams, as they glorified the Puritans for disagreeing with the established Church in England. Never do they condemn the Puritans for persecuting dissenters as they condemn the Church of England for persecuting the Puritans and Pilgrims.

Their account of Williams not only is given from their incorrect theological point of view which believes that the church, working with the civil government, is going to bring in the millennium before the return of Christ but also is a downright distortion of facts. Williams did not super-spiritualize Christianity. He just pointed out that the church operates under different rules than did Judaism. He did not remove Christianity from all contact with the sinful realities of daily living. He just correctly argued that the church and a Gentile nation is directed by the Word of God to deal with those realities in a manner differing from that of Judaism and the nation Israel in the theocracy. He did believe that Christians everywhere belonged to a “spiritual Israel” called the church. He did not believe that there should be no talk of any attempt on God’s part to build His kingdom on earth through imperfect human beings. Rather, he believed that man should have freedom of conscience in all things spiritual, a concept diametrically opposed to the theology of the established church of Massachusetts. He believed that the state should punish those who violate penal laws which should deal only with man’s relationship with his fellow man. He also believed, contrary to Puritan theology, that the church should not merge with the state for any reason, and that the church should not use the arm of the state to enforce the first four of the Ten Commandments which deal with man’s relationship to God and that the state was to punish only matters involving man’s relationship to man.

Marshall and Manuel continue their distortions and inaccuracies. They define liberty of conscience as meaning, “Nobody is going to tell me what I should do or believe” (Ibid.). As to the issue of “liberty of conscience” they state:

“Liberty of conscience is indeed a vital part of Christianity—as long as it is in balance with all the other parts. But taken out of balance and pursued to its extremes (which is where Williams, ever the purist, invariably pursued everything), it becomes a license to disregard all authority with which we do not happen to agree at the time.  This was the boat which Williams was rowing when he landed at Boston. Since, at its extreme, liberty of conscience stressed freedom from any commitment to corporate unity, Williams was not about to hear God through Winthrop or anyone else. (And tragically, he never did.)” (Ibid., p. 194).

Williams did not believe that liberty of conscience becomes a license to disregard all authority with which we do not happen to agree. Rather he believed, contrary to the beliefs of John Winthrop and the other leaders of the establishment in Massachusetts, that the church and state were separate—that is, that God ordained both church and state, each with its sphere of authority, the church over spiritual matters and the state over earthly matters, and both with totally different God-given guidelines.

Williams believed that both church and state were to be under God. He wrote and taught this extensively. Here is one example:

“I acknowledge [the civil magistrate] ought to cherish, as a foster-father, the Lord Jesus, in his truth, in his saints, to cleave unto them himself, and to countenance them even to the death, yea, also, to break the teeth of the lions, who offer civil violence and injury to them.
“But to see all his subjects Christians, to keep such church or Christians in the purity of worship, and see them do their duty, this belongs to the head of the body, Christ Jesus, and [to] such spiritual officers as he hath to this purpose deputed, whose right it is, according to the true pattern. Abimelech, Saul, Adonijah, Athalia, were but usurpers: David, Solomon, Joash, &c., they were the true heirs and types of Christ Jesus, in his true power and authority in his kingdom” (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), pp. 100-101. In this book, The Bloudy Tenent …, Williams addresses the arguments presented by Covenant Theology.).

Marshall and Manuel attribute the qualities of the leaders of the established church in Massachusetts to Roger Williams instead. They assert that he “desperately needed to come into reality and see his sin—how arrogant and judgmental and self-righteous he was” (Marshall and Manuel, The Light and the Glory, p.194).  They assert that he could have been “a great general in Christ’s army” since “he was tremendously gifted: in intellect, preaching, personality, and leadership ability” (Ibid., pp. 194-195). But he had one tragic flaw: he believed in freedom of conscience and held other views contrary to that of the established church and could not be persuaded otherwise, or, as Marshall and Manuel put it:

“[H]e would not see his wrongness, and he was so bound up in his intellect that no one could get close to the man, because he was forever hammering home points on ‘the truth.’ Trying to relate to him on a personal level was like trying to relate to cold steel—highly polished and refined” (Ibid., p. 195).

As to the Puritans on the other hand, Marshall and Manuel have nothing but praise. Every page of The Light and the Glory dealing with the Puritans and their leaders are filled with praise and notations as to how the providence of God was opening the door for the right people, at the right time, in the right place to correct all the errors of Christendom. For example, they write:

  • “Since God’s will was made known to them [the Puritans] through His inspired Word in the Bible, they naturally wanted to get as close to a Scriptural order of worship as possible. Indeed, what they ultimately wanted was to bring the Church back to something approximating New Testament Christianity.
  • “The Puritan dilemma was similar to that of many newly regenerate Christians of our time. They faced a difficult choice: should they leave their seemingly lifeless churches to join or start a live one, or should they stay where they were, to be used as that one small candle to which William Bradford referred?
  • “God was bringing the Puritans into compassion and humility.
  • “As historian Perry Miller would say, ‘Winthrop and his colleagues believed … that their errand was not a mere scouting expedition: it was an essential maneuver in the drama of Christendom. The [Massachusetts] Bay Company was not a battered remnant of suffering Separatists thrown up on a rocky shore; it was an organized task force of Christians, executing a flank attack on the corruptions of Christendom. These Puritans did not flee to America; they went in order to work out that complete reformation which was not yet accomplished in England and Europe’” (Ibid., pp. 150, 151, 152, 159).

The Puritans grew into such compassion and humility that they were able to horribly persecute Christians and others who did not agree with their unbiblical doctrines which the Puritans proudly believed to be inerrant.

Williams, in his relationship to the religious leaders of Massachusetts, was a lot like the Lord Jesus and the apostles in their relationship to the religious Jews. The religious leaders of Massachusetts made a mistake—they did not call upon the civil government (which was at their disposal) to kill Williams as they did with some other dissenters. Had they done so, we might not have our present form of civil government. They only banished him, a tragic error of highest proportions from their point of view.

As to the issue of persecution by the established church, Marshall and Manuel are hypocrites. They condemn the persecution of the Separatists (later called Pilgrims) and the Puritans in England, but then glorify the Puritans when they were persecuted and when they became the persecutors and persecuted those dissenters such as the Baptists and Quakers who did not conform to their theology in the New World. They complain that the Separatists:

  • “were hounded, bullied, forced to pay assessments to the Church of England, clapped into prison on trumped-up charges, and driven underground. They met in private homes, to which they came at staggered intervals and by different routes, because they were constantly being spied upon. In the little Midlands town of Scrooby, persecution finally reached the point where the congregation to which Bradford belonged elected to follow those other Separatists who had already sought religious asylum in Holland”(Ibid., pp. 108-109).
  • As to the Puritans … they write, “[The Puritans accepted the pressure of the mounting persecution] with grace and, as persecution often does, it served to rapidly deepen and mature the movement, bonding them together in common cause and making them more determined than ever to live as God had called them…. For a number of Puritans, [the marking of the Puritans for suppression by Charles I] was a watershed. It appeared no longer possible to reform the Church of England from within” (Ibid., p. 152).

Marshall and Manuel condemn the Church of England for persecuting Puritans and Pilgrims, but glorify the Puritans for persecuting Baptists.

Under the theology of Marshall and Manuel, and those of like mind, the government of Rhode Island—the first civil government in history which guaranteed religious liberty and freedom of conscience and which provided much more a model for the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America than did the government of the Puritans or that of any other established church—would not have existed nor would the United States exist in its present form. America would have no First Amendment to the United States Constitution, the amendment which was written to guarantee freedom of conscience. Men would still be forced to accept infant baptism, pay taxes to support the established church, attend the established church, proclaim allegiance to the established church, etc. Dissenters would still be persecuted. The church would still be working with the state to “bring in the kingdom,” something that the Word of God teaches is never going to happen.


III. Roger Williams: His arrival in Massachusetts; beliefs and differences with the Puritans; banishment; founding of Rhode Island, the first government in history with complete religious freedom

Roger Williams, like the Puritans, fled tyranny over thought and conscience and sought refuge for conscience amid the wilds of America. He arrived in Boston on February 5, 1631. He was highly educated and well acquainted with the classics and original languages of the Scriptures, and had been in charge of a parish in England. Immediately upon arrival, Mr. Williams, not being a man who could hide his views and principles, declared that “the magistrate might not punish a breach of the Sabbath, nor any other offence, as it was a breach of the first table” (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. 41; Williams and Underhill, p. ix, noting in fn. 1 that “Such is Governor Winthrop’s testimony. Knowles, p. 46.”).  He also, contrary to the practice of the church at Boston, hesitated to hold communion with any church who held communion with the Church of England. “He could not regard the cruelties and severities, and oppression, exercised by the Church of England, with any feelings but those of indignation” (Williams and Underhill, p. x).

Mr. Williams remained at odds with the established church and government ministers in Massachusetts. He was accepted by the church at Salem, but that was blocked by the General Court of the Colony. Plymouth warmly received him into the ministry where he labored two years. Exercising their right under congregational governance, the church at Salem called him, over the objections of the magistrates and ministers, to be their settled teacher. At Salem he filled the place with principles of rigid separation tending to Anabaptism (Backus, A History of New England, Volume 1, p. 44).  In spite of the fact that “Mr. Williams appears, by the whole course and tenor of his life and conduct [], to have been one of the most disinterested men that ever lived, a most pious and heavenly minded soul” (Callender, p. 72), the Court soon summoned him “for teaching publicly ‘against the king’s patent, and our great sin in claiming right thereby to this country’” by taking the land of the natives without payment (Backus, A History of New England, Volume 1, pp. 44-46. Williams and Underhill, p. xiii). The colonies held their land under the royal patent. Under the royal right of patent, Christian kings (so called) were given the right to take and give away the lands and countries of other men (Thomas Armitage, The History of the Baptists, Volumes 2 (Springfield, Mo.: Baptist Bible College, 1977 Reprint),pp. 638-639)); “and for terming the churches of England antichristian” (Williams and Underhill, pp. xiii-xiv).  Charges were brought. “He was accused of maintaining:

“(1) That the magistrate ought not to punish the breach of the first table of the law, otherwise in such cases as did disturb the civil peace.
“(2) That he ought not to tender an oath to an unregenerate man.
“(3) That a man ought not to pray with the unregenerate, though wife or child.
“(4) That a man ought not to give thanks after the sacrament nor after meat” (Ibid, p. xiv; Callender, p. 72; Backus, A History of New England…, Volume I, p. 53 (Backus adds item 2, as, according to footnote 1, p. 53, his is from Governor Winthrop’s Journal, Vol. 1, pp. [162, 163])).

The ministers of the Court, when Mr. Williams appeared before them, “had already decided ‘that any one was worthy of banishment who should obstinately assert, that the civil magistrate might not intermeddle even to stop a church from apostasy and heresy’” (Williams and Underhill, pp. xv, 387-389). The “grand difficulty they had with Mr. Williams was, his denying the civil magistrate’s right to govern in ecclesiastical affairs” (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, p. 53; Armitage, The History of the Baptists, Volume 2, pp. 627-640).

He was banished from the colony and ordered to board ship for England. Instead, he went, in the dead of winter, to what was to become Rhode Island where he was supported by the Indians whom he, throughout his long life, unceasingly tried to benefit and befriend (Williams and Underhill., p. xxiii).  He bought land from the Indians and founded the town of Providence where persecution has never “sullied its annals” (Ibid.).  “[T]he harsh treatment and cruel exile of Mr. Williams seem designed by his brethren for the same evil end [as that of the brethren of Joseph when they sold him into slavery], but was, by the goodness of the same overruling hand [of divine providence] turned to the most beneficent purposes” (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, p. 59).

“[W]hat human heart can be unaffected with the thought that a people who had been sorely persecuted in their own country, so as to flee three thousand miles into a wilderness for religious liberty, yet should have that imposing temper cleaving so fast to them, as not to be willing to let a godly minister, who testified against it, stay even in any neighboring part of this wilderness, but it moved them to attempt to take him by force, to send him back into the land of their persecutors” (Ibid., p. 56)!

Thirty-five years later Mr. Williams wrote, “Here, all over this colony, a great number of weak and distressed souls, scattered, are flying hither from Old and New England, the Most High and Only Wise hath, in his infinite wisdom, provided this country and this corner as a shelter for the poor and persecuted, according to their several persuasions” (Williams and Underhill, p. xxv, citing in fn. 5: Letter to Mason. Knowles, p. 398).  By 1838 in Rhode Island there were no less than thirty-two distinct societies or worshipping assemblies of Christians of varying denominations, including eight of the Quaker persuasion, eight Baptist churches, four Episcopal, and three Presbyterian or Congregationalist (Callender, pp. 121-122).

Roger Williams has been praised for his contributions in the quest for religious freedom. For example:

  • Isaac Backus wrote that Rhode Island “was laid upon such principles as no other civil government had ever been, as we know of, since antichrist’s first appearance; “and ROGER WILLIAMS justly claims the honor of having been the first legislator in the world, in its latter ages, that fully and effectually provided for and established a free, full and absolute LIBERTY OF CONSCIENCE” (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, pp. 75-76).
  • “We cannot forbear to add the oft-quoted tribute paid to Roger Williams by the historian Bancroft:—‘He was the first person in modern Christendom to assert in its plentitude the doctrine of liberty of conscience, the equality of opinions before the law; and in its defence he was the harbinger of Milton, the precursor and the superior of Jeremy Taylor. For Taylor limited his toleration to a few Christian sects; the philanthropy of Williams compassed the earth. Taylor favored partial reform, commended lenity, argued for forbearance, and entered a special plea in behalf of each tolerable sect; Williams would permit persecution of no opinion, of no religion, leaving heresy unharmed by law, and orthodoxy unprotected by the terrors of penal statutes…. If Copernicus is held in perpetual reverence, because, on his deathbed, he published to the world that the sun is the centre of our system; if the name of Kepler is preserved in the annals of human excellence for his sagacity in detecting the laws of the planetary motion; if the genius of Newton has been almost adored for dissecting a ray of light, and weighing heavenly bodies in a balance,—let there be for the name of Roger Williams, at least some humble place among those who have advanced moral science and made themselves the benefactors of mankind’” (Ibid., p. 76, fn. 1; Armitage, The History of the Baptists, Volume 2, p. 644).

IV. Rhode Island: Settlement, hated by Massachusetts, Dr. John Clarke, the Portsmouth and Providence Compacts, the question of the first Baptist church in America, the 1644 and 1663 Rhode Island charters

Rhode Island was settled in 1638 by others who were driven from Massachusetts by the ruling clerical power. Massachusetts had such great hate for Rhode Island that it passed a law prohibiting the inhabitants of Providence from coming within its bounds.

Another leader instrumental in the formation of the government of the Rhode Island colony was Dr. John Clarke, a physician. Dr. John Clarke of England moved to Boston in November of 1637. He proposed to some friends “for peace sake, and to enjoy the freedom of their consciences, to remove out of that jurisdiction” (Ibid., p. 71. See also, 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. 22-25).  Their motion was granted & Dr. Clarke and eighteen families went to New Hampshire which proved too cold for their liking. They left and stopped in Rhode Island, intending to go to Long Island or Delaware Bay. There Dr. Clarke met Roger Williams. The two “immediately became fast friends and associates, working together in a most harmonious manner, both socially and politically, throughout the remainder of Clarke’s life” (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. 27; Clarke).  With the help of Mr. Williams they settled in that colony at Aquidneck. “The first settlement on the Island was called Pocasset; after the founding of Newport, it was renamed Portsmouth” (Asher, p. 29; Clarke).

Perhaps Marshall and Manuel had good reason, from their point of view, for making not a single mention of Dr. Clarke in The Light and the Glory. Isaac Backus found it to be very extraordinary that he could find from any author or record no reflection cast upon Dr. Clarke by any one (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, p. 349).  Dr. Clarke left as spotless a character as any man [Isaac Backus] knew of, that ever acted in any public station in this country (Ibid., p. 348).  “The Massachusetts writers have been so watchful and careful, to publish whatever they could find, which might seem to countenance the severities, they used towards dissenters from their way, that [Mr. Backus] expected to find something of that nature against Mr. Clarke”(Ibid., p. 349)

The first government in history that was to have complete freedom of conscience and religious liberty also declared that the government was to be under the Lord Jesus Christ. Signed on March 7, 1638, the Portsmouth Compact read:

  • “We whose names are underwritten do swear solemnly, in the presence of Jehovah, to incorporate ourselves into a body politic, and as he shall help us, will submit our persons, lives and estates, unto our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of kings, and Lord of lords, and to all those most perfect and absolute laws of his, given us in his holy word of truth, to be guided and judged thereby” (Ibid., pp. 77, 427.  On p. 427 is the exact copy from Rhode Island records.  In the margin are citations to Exodus 34.3, 4; II Chronicles 11.3, and II Kings 11, 17). [19 signatures followed: Thomas Savage, William Dyre, William Freeborne, Philip Sherman, John Walker, Richard Carder, William Baulstone, Edward Hutchinson, Sen., Henry Bull, Randal Holden, William Coddington, John Clarke, William Hutchinson, John Coggshall, William Aspinwall, Samuel Wilbore, John Porter, Edward Hutchinson, Jun., and John Sanford.].
    Three passages were marked in support of the compact: Exodus 24.3, 4; II Chronicles 11.3; and II Kings 11.17.

The chief architect of this concise and powerful piece of political history was either William Aspinwall or Dr. John Clarke, probably Dr. Clarke (Asher, p. 23; James R. Beller, America in Crimson Red (Arnold, Missouri: Prairie Fire Press, 2004), p. 24. Mr. Beller states that the author was John Clarke. Mr. Asher asserts that Clarke was probably the writer since the passages referenced in support of the agreement were marked in Dr. Clarke’s Bible).  This compact placed Rhode Island under the one true God, the Lord Jesus Christ and His principles and laws given in the Bible. That Dr. Clarke “sought to help establish a government free of all religious restriction, one which in no way infringed upon the freedom of any religious conscience” is “evident from his remarks to the leaders of the established colonies upon his first arrival in Boston and by his subsequent activities throughout New England” (Asher, p. 27). A civil government under Jesus Christ with freedom of religion is consistent with biblical principles.

Isaac Backus commented on this compact:

This was doubtless in their view a better plan than any of the others had laid, as they were to be governed by the perfect laws of Christ. But the question is, how a civil polity could be so governed, when he never erected any such state under the gospel” (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, p. 78)?

Mr. Backus asked a good question. Too bad our founding fathers did not find and apply the answer.

On the same day the Portsmouth Compact was signed, “[n]ineteen men incorporated into a body politic, and chose Mr. Coddington to be their judge or chief magistrate” (Ibid., p. 72; Asher, p. 27).  The first General Meeting of the Portsmouth government convened on May 13, 1638. “The apportionment of land, a mutual defense of territory, and provision for a ‘Meeting House’ were ordered” (Asher, p. 29).

Soon, a civil government was formed which invested power in the freemen, none of whom were to be “accounted delinquents for doctrine,” “provided it be not directly repugnant to or laws established” (Williams and Underhill, pp. xxvii-xxviii).  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” (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, p. 74; cited in Beller, America in Crimson Red, p. 13; Armitage, A History of the Baptists,  Volume 2, p. 643). [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.]

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” (Beller, America in Crimson Red, p. 13).  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 (Williams and Underhill, p. xxviii).

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” (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, pp. 427-428).

In March 1639 Mr. Williams became a Baptist, together with several more of his companions in exile (Williams and Underhill, p. xxvi; Isaac Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, pp. 86-89).  Mr. Williams, who was baptized by one Holliman, in turn baptized ten others. Thus, according to some accounts,was founded the first Baptist church in America.

“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). Since writing God Betrayed, the author has done more study on the matter of the First Baptist church in America was founded by Roger Williams (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 for more on these matters.).

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 (Williams and Underhill, p. xxvii; Isaac Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, p. 89). 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” (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, p. 91).

Mr. 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” (Callender, pp. 110-111).

Mr. Williams set sail for England in June 1643, to attempt to secure a charter for Rhode Island. With help from his friend, Sir Henry Vane, he quickly obtained a charter, dated March 14, 1644 which empowered the Providence Plantations “to rule themselves, and such as should inhabit within their bounds, by such a form of civil government as by the voluntary agreement of all, or the greater part, shall be found most serviceable, in their estate and condition; and to make suitable laws, agreeable to the laws of England, so far as the nature and constitution of the place shall admit, &c” (Ibid., p. 98).

The knowledge which was being disseminated through the power of the press was affecting the religious leaders as well as the general population in America. People were now able to read the Bible and other works and thereby make decisions as to the accuracy of what others were asserting. “Many books [were] coming out of England in the year 1645, some in defence of anabaptism and other errors, and for liberty of conscience, as a shelter for a general toleration of all opinions, &c…” (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, p. 145, quoting Hubbard, [413-415.]).  Mr. Williams wrote The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience which was published in London in 1644. “In this work he maintains the absolute right of every man, to a ‘full liberty in religious concernments,’ supported by the most luminous and powerful reasoning … [w]hich have excited admiration in the writings of Jeremy Taylor, Milton, Locke and Furneau” (Callender, Appendix IV, p. 191).  John Cotton’s reply, The Bloody Tenent washed, and made white in the Blood of the Lamb, was printed in London in 1649. Mr. Williams reply entitled The Bloody Tenent yet more Bloody, was published in 1652 (For an excellent summary of some of the more important arguments presented by both sides see Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, pp. 134-145).  “The same clear, enlarged and consistent views of religious freedom are maintained in this last work, as in his preceding, with additional arguments, evincing an acute, vigorous, and fearless mind, imbued with various erudition and undissembled piety” (Callender, pp. 191-192).

“To the point we have arrived, the history of Roger Williams and the state he founded were indissolubly allied together. Others imbued with his principles henceforth took part in working out the great and then unsolved problem—how liberty, civil and religious, could exist in harmony with dutiful obedience to rightful laws” (Williams and Underhill, p. xxx).

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 (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, pp. 125-26 and fn. 1, p. 125; see also, Beller, America in Crimson Red, pp. 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.)).


V. More on Puritan persecutions including the beating of Obadiah Holmes and Puritan rationale for persecution

Under the leadership of Dr. Clarke, Rhode Island became a government of religious liberty. Dr. Clarke added law and politics to his already crowded professions of medicine and religious ministry when he was elected General Treasurer and General Assistant for Newport in 1650. “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” (Asher, p. 35).  Under his leadership, 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 (Ibid., pp. 35-36).

When Dr. Clarke and two friends went to Massachusetts they were persecuted. In 1651, he, Obadiah Holmes, and John Crandal went to visit a friend in Boston. (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.) 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” (Asher, p. 57; See Clarke, pp. 27-65 for a full account of the event).  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’” (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).  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 (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, pp. 180, 187; Asher, p. 60).  A friend paid Mr. Clarke’s fine. Mr. Clarke and Mr. Crandal were released.

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 (Ibid., fn. 1, p. 189).  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” (Ibid., p. 190).  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” (Ibid., p. 192; Clarke, pp. 50-51).

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

Beating of Obadiah Holmes

Pastor Jason Cooley, “Sermon Commentary on Dr. John Clarke, Obadiah Holmes, the Articles of Faith of the First Baptist Church in America (the Newport, R.I. Baptist Church),” December 26, 2012

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 they were released (See Clarke, pp. 55-62 for the personal accounts of John Spur and John Hazell).

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. (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1,pp. 198-199).  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” (Ibid., p. 200).

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” (Ibid., p. 201).


VI. Dr. John Clarke’s beliefs concerning separation of church and state and his successful efforts to secure 1663 Charter of Rhode Island which granted “unprecedented liberties in religious matters”

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” (Asher, p. 72).

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” (Ibid.).  “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” (Ibid.).

“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” (Ibid., p. 66). “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” (Ibid., p. 67).  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” (Ibid., pp. 67-68).

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” (Ibid., p. 73). Mr. Williams returned to New England in the early summer of 1654.

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” (Callender, Appendix XXI, pp. 261-262).  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 (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, pp. 277-280). 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” (See Callender, Appendix No. XXI, pp. 241-262 for the complete charter; see also, Beller, America in Crimson Red, Appendix D, pp. 505-506). [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” (Asher, pp. 78-79), 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. Sadly, America’s founding documents, although the best governing documents ever conceived, as a whole fell short of the ideal. For example, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution blended some enlightenment with many biblical principles. The Founding Fathers hoped for virtue, not piety. The Founding Fathers desire was to secure the “happiness of man,” whereas, under the Portsmouth Compact and the Rhode Island Charter, the goal was the Glory of God; that is, they desired that the colony be under God and His principles contained in the Bible.

VII. Conclusion: The effect of the Rhode Island government thus established

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” (Callender, pp. 163-164).

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 (Ibid., Appendix IX, p. 211).  Of Mr. Clarke, Isaac Backus wrote: He “left as spotless a character as any man I know of” (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, p. 348).  “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” (Ibid., fn. 1, pp. 348-349).  “To no man, except Roger Williams, is Rhode Island more indebted than to him” (Callender, p. 212).

“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” (Ibid., Appendix XVI, p. 230, citing Bancroft’s History of the United States, vol. 1, p. 380).

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’” (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). The Commissioners of Rhode Island notified John Clarke. As a result, King Charles II ordered that “neither capital nor corporal punishment should be inflicted on Quakers, but that offenders should be sent to England” (Callender, Appendix XIX, pp. 234-236).  This decree of the King probably saved the lives of other dissenters.

All that was happening was not 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” (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, pp. 202-203), 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” (Callender, Appendix XIX, p. 238).

 

The Separates and the Baptists in New England


Jerald Finney
Copyright © December 31, 2012


Click here to go to the entire history of religious liberty in America.


Note. This is a modified version of Section IV, Chapter 7 of God Betrayed: Separation of Church and State/The Biblical Principles and the American Application. Audio Teachings on the History of the First Amendment has links to the audio teaching of Jerald Finney on the history of the First Amendment.


The Separates and the Baptists in New England

Contents:

I. George Whitfield and the Great Awakening in New England
II.
The Separate movement, the New Lights and the Old Lights, Isaac Backus separates, persecution brings more to the New Light position
III.
The Separate movement had enduring consequences; Baptist churches sprang from it in New England; Isaac Backus became a Baptist and a Baptist leader, stood for Baptist principles, and was vilified and persecuted for his stand
IV.
The Separates and Baptists divide in love
V.
The revival died out; Separate churches disappeared; the Baptist denomination experienced unprecedented growth; the Warren Association was formed to obtain religious liberty; Backus led the fight for religious liberty, and was opposed by John Adams; Backus sought the same end as George Mason, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison as to a Bill of Rights, but from a pietistic as opposed to a humanistic point of view
VI.
The Baptists fought on, the certificates, the Baptists went to the courts, the Cutter case and other cases, persecution of Baptists continued but the Baptists continued to grow in numbers, in 1818 state support for the Congregationalist church was withdrawn in Connecticut


I. George Whitfield and the Great Awakening in New England

“Congregationalism claimed a large class of inferior church members by 1720, baptized into the churches without conversion” (William L. Lumpkin, Baptist Foundations in the South (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2006), p. 2).  Generally speaking, by 1740, religious decay had spread throughout New England. However, “the relentless preaching of Jonathan Edwards of complete surrender to the will of God introduced the novel phenomenon of revival in Massachusetts” (Ibid.). The revival spread down the Connecticut Valley into Connecticut (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. 21). Between 1635 and 1640 Congregationalism had been planted in the Connecticut colony: “As the country was more fully discovered, the lands on Connecticut river grew so famous for their fruitfulness, and convenience to keep cattle, that great numbers from New-Town, Dorchester, &c., removed there, under the conduct of Mr. Hains, Mr. Hopkins, Mr. Ludlow, and Mr. Hooker, &c., and through inexpressible hardships, through famine, and weariness, and perils of the enemy, they at length settled at Hartford, 1635 and 1636, which was the beginning of the Connecticut colony; and, in 1637, New-Haven colony was begun by a people directly from England” ((John Callender, The Civil and Religious Affairs of the Colony of Rhode-Island (Providence: Knowles, Vose & Company, 1838), pp. 67-68). The initial revival was of short duration … and did not touch the people of New England generally (Lumpkin, p. 2). Then, George Whitefield, the world-famous English evangelist arrived at Newport. Great crowds greeted Whitefield wherever he went to preach. In Connecticut, he was greeted with great enthusiasm. All Connecticut was at his feet.

As a result of that great revival, many were converted and churches experienced unprecedented growth. The Great Awakening emphasized individual conversion and the new birth (Ibid., pp. 3-5). “[T]he new converts were dubbed ‘New Lights’ by their critics because the awakened people emphasized the immediacy of the Holy Spirit’s illumination and leadership in their personal lives” (Ibid., p. 7).  The members of the old churches were called “Old Lights.” “The former favored Whitefield’s type of evangelism and the idea of the regenerate church; the latter opposed revivalism and defended the state church order” (Ibid.).

Many itinerant preachers arose as a result of this revival. Consequently, the General Court of Connecticut “forbade all itinerant preaching under penalty of loss of the right to collect one’s legal salary and imprisonment. Itinerant lay preachers or strange ministers were to be silenced or expelled from the colony” (Ibid., p. 8; see also, for the actual wording of the act against itinerant and other preachers, 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. 44-46). “In Connecticut, legal action was taken against the revivalists, their churches were deprived of legal status, and some of the preachers were thrown into jail” (William H. Marnell, The First Amendment: Religious Freedom in America from Colonial Days to the School Prayer Controversy (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1964), p. 87).

The Great Awakening brought as many as 50,000 new converts, and brought into being, between 1740 and 1760, one hundred and fifty new Congregationalist churches and added to the number of Separatist and Baptist churches. “It brought the personal and pietistic religious tradition into a section previously dominated without challenge by Calvinistic rationalization…. As always and everywhere, the New England situation shows that such separation and disestablishment arose out of religion and not its opposite” (Ibid.).


II. The Separate movement, the New Lights and the Old Lights, Isaac Backus separates, persecution brings more to the New Light position

A number of New Lights who initially tried to influence the church to return to the concept of the pure church were forced out of the established churches. The term “Separates” referred to those who believed that the church should only include regenerate members and those who separated from the state-churches on this conviction. The Separate movement started in Connecticut and moved to Massachusetts. Separate churches began to appear at various towns.

There was great prejudice against Baptists. England forced New England to exempt Baptists from taxation in 1728, but the establishment found ways to circumvent this exemption. Operating clandestinely because of opposition by the authorities, Baptist preachers had come into Connecticut from Rhode Island, as they had done in Massachusetts, starting in 1674. They made some converts and even started some churches in Connecticut in 1704, 1710, 1735, and 1740. All dissenters were taxed to support the established church unless certified to pay the tax to their own churches. To be exempted they had to attend regularly their own church and live within five miles of their meeting place. Those who belonged to no church were also assessed the tax (Lumpkin, pp. 11-13). However, Separates were not given the privileges accorded Baptists, Quakers, and Anglicans.

One of the most prominent of the Separates was Isaac Backus. Although he spent much of his ministry in Massachusetts, he was a native of Norwich, Connecticut. In the new movement, he became the leading figure; and his shift from the Separate to the Baptist camp is central to the religious history of New England (William G. McLoughlin, Isaac Backus and the American Piestic Tradition (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1967); Isaac Backus on Church, State, and Calvinism, Pamphlets, 1754-1789, Edited by William G. McLoughlin (Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1968), pp. 60-61).

Mr. Backus was saved in 1741. On August 24, 1741, Mr. Backus, in his own words, speaking of himself, realized:

“that he had done his utmost to make himself better, without obtaining any such thing; but that he was a guilty sinner in the hands of a holy God, who had a right to do with him as seemed good in God’s sight; which he then yielded to and all his objections against it were silenced.  And soon upon this a way of relief was opened to his soul, which he never had any true idea of before, wherein truth and justice shine with luster, in the bestowment of free mercy and salvation upon objects who have nothing in themselves but badness. And while this divine glory engaged all his attention, his burthen of guilt and evil dispositions was gone, and such ideas and inclinations were implanted in his heart  as were never there before, but which have never been rooted out since, though often overclouded” (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, p. 107).

Two years later, he, his mother, and some of his other relatives walked out of the established Norwich Church they belonged to and started holding meetings of their own. They left the church because the church voted to admit new members by a majority vote without evidence of conversion, the minister appeared to think that the Lord’s Supper was a converting ordinance, and the church exhibited a “strong affection for the Saybrook scheme.”

A revolution had begun.

“The essence of the religious revolution which the Separate movement began (and the Baptists finished) lay in church government and not in theology—though it became necessary eventually to modify Calvinism in order that it might conform more nearly to the unforeseen ramifications of the new practices in church discipline and polity. The major issues involved in church government were the autonomy and purity of the church, the nature of the ministry, and the relationship between Church and State” (McLoughlin, The American Pietistic Tradition, pp. 23-24).

The church and state were interwoven in New England. Into the eighteenth century the Puritan tradition continued in greater strength in Connecticut than elsewhere. All citizens were taxed for the support of religion. The Saybrook Platform was ordained by the Connecticut legislature in 1708. 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 (Lumpkin, p. 11; Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, pp. 472-474; Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, p. 319). The state supported the actions of the county associations, and could deny the right of a minister to preach and collect his salary (McLoughlin, The American Pietistic Tradition, p. 24).

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 (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, pp. 319-320). 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” (Lumpkin, p. 15; see also, Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, p. 57, fn. 3). 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 (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, pp. 68-74; McLoughlin, p. 26). 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” (McLoughlin, The American Pietistic Tradition, pp. 26-27).

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” (Lumpkin, p. 14, citing Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, p. 176).  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. As a result of this disagreement, the Baptist members left the Separate churches and formed their own churches.


III. The Separate movement had enduring consequences; Baptist churches sprang from it in New England; Isaac Backus became a Baptist and a Baptist leader, stood for Baptist principles, and was vilified and persecuted for his stand

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” (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, fn. 1, p. 64).

From the point of his conversion, Mr. Backus gradually became a leader of the Baptist movement. He was asked to preach to a church at Titicut in 1748, a revival resulted, people were saved, and a Separate church was formed in February, 1748 in defiance of the authorities. Mr. Backus and sixteen men signed the church covenant which provided for election and dismissal of the ministers, deacons, and elders by a majority vote, repudiated the claim that the minister was superior in authority to the brethren, stated that the minister was to be supported by free contribution of the members, and asserted the priesthood of all believers and the right and duty of all members to exercise any ability they had to preach or pray in public (McLoughlin, The American Pietistic Tradition, pp. 42-43).

Mr. Backus was opposed by scurrilous opposition. As he said, “I had many things thrown upon me to represent my Carecter odious and hinder me in this glorious Work.” Lies were told about him, such as that he had a wife and children in the country, that he had “bastards in this place or that, that there was a girl or two with his child (Ibid., p. 46).

The members of the church were taxed to support the established church. The church protested the tax, but parish committee refused to exempt Mr. Backus and his followers from religious taxes. Their rationale was basically that the golden rule required them to do so, and that the committee would want their neighbors to force them to pay such a tax if they were in error. “[N]either doth God himself countenance or give Liberty to any men to follow the ‘Dictates of a misguided Eronius Conscience’” (Ibid., p. 52). The reply gave an argument over the separation of church and state with which Backus had to wrestle the rest of his life.

“Oppression ‘can’t mean and intend that Tis unwarrantable or sinfull for men to urge and press others to a compliance with their Duty as it is pointed out by the Laws of God or the good and wholesome Laws of the Land and in case men through obstinacy and willfulness [refuse] and so will not make good either Lawfull Contracts [&] Covenants the original good and Design of their being incorporated into Distinct [religious] societies [or parishes] and so Tis no oppression….’ Under the Golden Rule the committee said it would want their neighbors to force them to do their duty if they were in error. ‘Liberty of Conscience according to the word of god is not for men to Live as they list or Do as they please while they maintain Erors in Judgment, Disown the truth of god, Exclaim against a faithful ministry, make Light of that good order and government which Jesus Christ has set up in his church; neither does God himself countenance or give Liberty to any men to follow the Dictates of a misguided Eronius Conscience….’ ‘Let it be observed that there is a great difference between persecution and prosecution’ (Ibid.).”

In February, 1749, Backus was arrested for not paying a ministerial tax, but someone paid it for him, and he was released. Other members of the church were imprisoned or had their property confiscated for failing to pay the tax.

“Three-quarters of a century were to pass and Backus was to be in his grave before the people of Massachusetts yielded to the radical New Light view that the state should indeed allow individuals to ‘act and Conduct as they pleas’ in matters of religion even if it meant imperiling their souls, the destruction of the parish system, the end of compulsory religious taxation, and the abandonment of the Puritan ideal of a corporate Christian commonwealth” (Ibid., pp. 52-53).

Backus struggled with the issue of baptism, studied Scripture, rejected infant baptism, and was baptized by dipping on August 22, 1751 (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, pp. 108-111).  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 (McLoughlin, pp. 61-63):

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.]” (Ibid., pp. 62-64).

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” (Ibid., p. 76).

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” (Ibid., pp. 73-76). “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…” (Ibid., p. 74).


IV. The Separates and Baptists divide in love

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” (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, fn. 1, p. 115; on pp. 116-119 Backus gives further arguments.).

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” (Lumpkin, p. 18).

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” (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, pp. 117-118).


V. The revival died out; Separate churches disappeared; the Baptist denomination experienced unprecedented growth; the Warren Association was formed to obtain religious liberty; Backus led the fight for religious liberty, and was opposed by John Adams; Backus sought the same end as George Mason, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison as to a Bill of Rights, but from a pietistic as opposed to a humanistic point of view

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 Baptists 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 (Lumpkin, p. 20).

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 (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, pp. 154-156; see also, pp. 408-409 concerning formation of the Warren Association).

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” (McLoughlin, The American Pietistic Tradition, p. 109).

“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” (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.). 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” (McLoughlin, The American Pietistic Tradition, pp. 123-124).

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” (Ibid., p. 126):

1. [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 (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, p. 178, citing “An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty.”).

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” (McLoughlin, The American Pietistic Tradition, p. 127). 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 (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, pp. 178-182).

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 (Ibid., pp. 200-202, and fn. 1, p. 201).  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 (Ibid., pp. 203-204, 219-220, 225-229, 228-229).

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 (McLoughlin, The American Pietistic Tradition, p. 140.  The entire tract is reproduced in Isaac Backus on Church, State, and Calvinism, Pamphlets, 1754-1789, Edited by William G. McLoughlin (Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1968) pp. 345-365).

“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” (Ibid., 141).

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 (Ibid., p. 142).

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” (Ibid., pp. 142-144).

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” (Ibid., pp. 142-144).

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. The goal of “the glory of God” was not in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. 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.

The Warren Association, on September 13, 1780, published a remonstrance, authored by Mr. Backus, against Article Three of that proposed constitution stating, 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” (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, fn. 2, pp. 229-230). But support for ministry could only be through voluntary support, not coercion which 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” (McLoughlin, The American Pietistic Tradition, pp. 148-149).

“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’” (Ibid., pp. 149-150).


VI. The Baptists fought on, the certificates, the Baptists went to the courts, the Cutter case and other cases, persecution of Baptists continued but the Baptists continued to grow in numbers, in 1818 state support for the Congregationalist church was withdrawn in Connecticut

The Baptists fought on. They took their case to the courts. Attleboro, Massachusetts assessed a religious tax on everyone. Some members of a Baptist church in Attleboro refused to file a certificate and refused to pay the tax. The property of some was sold to pay the tax. Elijah Balkcom, after being arrested, paid the tax under protest, then sued to test the constitutionality of Article Three. They won an initial victory in county court.

However, the case was overturned two years later on appeal of the favorable trial court decision in the case of Cutter v. Frost. Cutter also held that only incorporated religious societies were entitled to legal recognition. Since most, if not all, of the Baptist churches in Massachusetts were unincorporated, they were not qualified for exemption (Ibid., pp. 160-161; see Backus’ reaction to the decision in the Balkcom case in McLoughlin, Isaac Backus on Church, State, and Calvinism, “A Door Opened for Christian Liberty,” pp. 428-438).  A lawyer advised Mr. Backus and the grievance committee to file the certificates, pay their taxes, and sue if the parish treasurer refused to turn the money over to their own pastor. The committee voted to follow this advice, Mr. Backus casting the lone negative vote. This was a reversal of the 1773 stand against giving of the certificates. “The spirit of the times did not call for martyrdom and fanaticism. The other members of the committee were more interested in improving the status and respectability of their denomination” (Ibid., pp. 163-164).

As a result, three cases were brought in three different courts and the Baptists prevailed at trial court and on appeal. In other cases over the years, much time and expense was expended to get tax money earmarked for Baptist ministers. One case required fourteen lawsuits before the town treasurer yielded the taxes. In some towns, when it was shown the Baptists would sue, the “Standing Order” ceased to argue the matter (Ibid., pp. 164-165).

Mr. Backus, being disappointed with his twelve-year battle against certificates, turned his zeal to other outlets—to fighting the threat to Baptist doctrines.

As new Baptist churches continued to be constituted, and the number of Baptists continued to increase, the persecution continued in Connecticut. In 1784 Connecticut made a new law continuing the support of established ministers by taxation. However, another act exempted all persons from that tax who filed a certificate to the effect that they regularly attended and supported worship services in any type of gospel ministry. Mr. Backus said of this act, “[I]s not this a mark of the beast? … Blood hath ever followed the support of worship by the sword of the magistrate…. And how can any man keep himself unspotted from the world, if he forces the world to support his worship” Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, pp. 320-321 ()?

Then, in May of 1791, Connecticut passed an addition to the ineffectual law of 1784 which held that “no certificate could be legal, until it was approbated by two justices of the peace, or only by one, if there was no more in the town where the dissenter lived,” and that such certificate was ineffective as to taxes granted before the certificate was lodged (Ibid., p. 345).  However, after a remonstrance and petition were presented, the law was repealed in October 1791 and another law made to allow every man to give in his own certificate, if he dissented from the ruling sect.

The quest for religious freedom in Connecticut continued until 1818 when state support was withdrawn from the Congregationalist Church (Marnell, p. 114).