Thomas Helwisse.—This zealous puritan was a man possessed of good natural parts, and some acquired endowments, though it does not appear whether he received any university education. He was a member of the ancient church of separatists, founded in the beginning of the reign of Queen Elizabeth; and was peculiarly serviceable to those people when, to escape the oppressions of the times, they fled to Holland. There he was esteemed a man of eminent faith and charity, possessing excellent spiritual gifts. When Mr. John Smyth raised the controversy about baptism, Mr. Helwisse became one of his disciples, received baptism from him by immersion, and is said to have been excommu
• Ncwcourl's Reperl. Eccl.vol. II. p. 248.
+ Fuller'! Worthies P"t. II. p. 89.
1 Newcourt's Reperl. Eccl. vol. I. p. 890. II. p. 46«.
S Fuller's Hist, of Camb. p. 1S4.
|| Willtins's Discourse on Preaching, p. Si.
1 Palmer's Noncoo. Mem. vol. li. p. 304.
nicated by the contrary party. He was one of (be first in the constitution of the church to which Mr. Smyth was chosen pastor; and, upon Mr. Smyth'? death, he was chosen to the pastoral office. Though he did not go forwards with an equal degree of comfort and success as Mr. Smyth had done, it was acknowledged that his preaching and
The chief opposers of Mr. Helwisse and his church, according to Crosby, were the Brownists, from whom they had separated. These persons, having incorrect notions of religious liberty, wrote against them with too much warmth, calling them heretics, anabaptists, &c.; yet made several concessions in their favour,clcaring them of those extravagant opinions which distinguished the old anabaptists. They acknowledged, that Mr. Hclwissc and his people disclaimed the doctrine of free-will; that, though they excluded infants from baptism, they believed in infant salvation; and that they even agreed with their opponents in the great truths of the gospel. And with respect to their morals, as our author adds, they confessed that they had attained to some degree of knowledge and godliness; that they had a zeal of God, though, in their opinion, not according to knowledge ; and that when they found any person of their communion guilty of sin, they proceeded to censure him. People ot whom these things could, with truth, be said, ought not to have received any unkind usage from their brethren, though they differed trom thoin ubout baptism, or some other subordinate points. It is extremely probable, however, there was fault on both sides; and if each party had been less influenced by a spirit of intolerance, and more by a spirit of forbearance, their history would have appeared no less honourable in the eye of a discerning posterity.
Upon Mr. Smyth's death, Mr. Helwisse and his people published a confession of their faith, entitled, " A Declaration of Faith of the English People remaining at Amsterdam in Holland."* Mr. John Robinson, pastor to the English church at Leyden, published some remarks upon it. About the same time, Mr. Helwisse began to reflect upon himself and his brethren for deserting their country on account of persecution. He resolved, therefore, to return home, that he might share the same lot with that of his brethren who had continued to endure the storm. Being
• Crosby's Hist, of Baptists, vol. ii. Apptn. p. 1—9.
accompanied by the greater part of his congregation, he returned to England, and settled in London, where they gained many proselytes, and became, as it is conjectured, the first Gen Eral Baptist society in England. However, to justify their conduct in returning home, Mr. Helwisse published " A Short Declaration," in which he stated in what cases it was lawful to flee in times of persecution. To this, also, Mr. Robinson published a reply.
In the year 1615, Mr. Helwisse and his church in London, published a treatise, entitled, " Persecution for Religion, Judged and Condemned." Though there was no name prefixed to it, they were certainly its authors.* In this work, besides defending their own opinions as baptists, and attempting to clear themselves of several false charges, they endeavour to expose the evil of persecution. They maintain, that every man has an equal right to judge for himself in all matters of religion; and that to persecute any person, on account of his religion, is illegal, and antichristian. They acknowledge that civil magistrates are of divine appointment; and that kings, and such as are in authority, ought to be obeyed in all chit matters. But that against which they chiefly protest, is the pride, luxury, and oppression of the lordly bishops, and their pretended spiritual power, by which many were exposed to confiscation of goods, long and painful imprisonment, hungering, burning, and banishment. " It is no small persecution," say they, " to lie many years in filthy prisons, in hunger, cold, idleness, divided from wife, family and calling, and left in continual miseries and temptations: so that death to many would be less persecution.t How many, only for seeking reformation in religion, have been put to death by your power (meaning the bishops) in the days of Queen Elizabeth? And how many have been consumed to death in prisons ? Hath not hungering, bunting, exile, imprisonments, and all kinds of contempt been used ? It is most grievous cruelty to lie several years in most noisome and
• Crosby'* Hist, of Baptists, vol. i. p. 869—«7S.
+ Bishop Warburton's opinion of persecution is rery singular. •« The exacting conformity of the ministry by the governors of the church," says he, *• is no persecution." This is certainly a strange sentiment to come from the pen of a protestant prelate. Admitting this principle, there w as no persecution in the reign of Queen Mary. It was no persecution, when the Jewish sanhedrim agreed, " That if any man did confess that Jesus was the Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue." It was no persecution, when the parliament imposed the Scot's covenant.—TfcaC$ Puritans, Voi. i. p. 319.
filthy prisons, and continual temptations, being rained in their estates, and many of them never coming out till death."*
This was a bold protestation against the illegal and iniquitous proceedings of the ruling prelates, and a noble stand in defence of religious liberty. For making the above generous principles the foundation of their practice, they were grievously harassed in the ecclesiastical courts; when their goods were seized, and they were many years confined in loathsome jails, being deprived of their wives, children and friends, till the Lord was pleased to release some of them by death. Mr. Helwisse had his share in these barbarous oppressions. Being a leading person among the nonconformists of the baptist persuasion, he felt the inhuman cruelties of the spiritual rulers, but went forwards, as he had opportunity, with courage and success. He died most probably about the year 1620.1