Try out the new BibleStudyTools.com. Click here!

Roger Williams

Roger Williams.—This remarkable person was bor n in Wales, in the year l,,y<), and educated in the university of Oxford. He became a subject of divine grace at ten or twelve years of age. In early youth he attracted the attention, and obtained the patronage, of Lord Chief Justice Coke; who, seeing him at some place of public worship, was struck with the attentive behaviour of one so young, and his taking notes of the sermon. When the service was over, he sent for young Williams, and desired to see his notes, and, finding them very judiciously taken, took him under his patronage, and sent him to Oxford. Having finished his studies at the university, he entered into the ministerial office, and was some years minister in the established church. He afterwards joined the puritans, and became a zealous nonconformist; but the intolerable oppressions of Bishop I^aud forced him from his native country, when he fled to New England.! Mr. Neal says he was a rigid Brownist, precise, uncharitable, and of most turbulent and boisterous passions.$ But Mr. Hubbard, who lived in those times, denominates him " a godly and zealous preacher."||

Mr. Williams arrived in New England February 5, 1631, and was immediately. called by the church at Salem to be assistant to Mr. Samuel Skelton. His settlement was, however, opposed by the magistrates, " because he refused to communicate with the church at Boston, unless they would make a public declaration of their repentance, for having held communion with the church of England when in their native country; and because he declared it as his opinion, that the civil magistrate might not punish any branch of the first table." In consequence of this, he was called by the church of Plymouth to assist Mr. Ralph Smith; where, says Governor Bradford, " he was freely entertained, according to our poor ability, and exercised his gifts among us; and, after some time, was admitted a member of the church, and his teaching well approved; for the benefit whereof I still bless God; and am thankful to him even for his sharpest admonitions and reproofs." He continued assistant to Mr. Smith two or three years; but finding some of the leading members of the church to be of different sentiments from himself, and having received an invitation to succeed Mr. Skelton as pastor of the church at Sulem, he requested his dismission to that church. After some demur, his request was granted. He preached at Salem, it is said, all the time of Mr. Skelton's sickness, and insinuated himself so far into the affections of the people, by his vehement manner of delivery, that he was chosen pastor after the other's death.* His request was granted by the particular persuasion of Mr. Brewster, the venerable elder, who signified his fears "that Mr. Williams would run the tame course of rigid separation and anabaptistry, which Mr. John Smyth had done at Amsterdam." Those who adhered to him were also dismissed and removed to the church at Salem. Though his settlement was still opposed by the magistrates, he became their pastor, and laboured among them about two years. We are, indeed, informed," That m one year's time he filled that place with the principles of rigid separation, tending to anabaptism."+

* Backus's Hist, of Baptists, vol. i. p. 154.

+ Morse and Parish's Hist. p. 101.

| MS. Account. S Ncal's Hi»'- of New Eog. vol. i. p. 140, 141.

| Backus's Hist, of Baptists, vol. i. p. 53, 508.

Mr. Williams never withheld his opinions, but openly and publicly declared whatever appeared to him to be the truth. Hiis exposed him to the censure of his enemies, and involved him in troubles even soon after his settlement at Salem. At length, July 8, 1635, he was summoned before the general court, and was charged with maintaining, " That it is not lawful for godly men to have communion in family prayer with such as they judge unregenerate; that it is not lawful for an unregenerate man to pray; that the magistrate has nothing to do in matters of the first table, only in cases of disturbance to the civil peace; that he ought not to tender an oath to an unregenerate man; that a man ought not to give thanks after the sacrament, nor after meals; that there ought to be an unlimited toleration of all religions; that to punish a man for following the dictates of his conscience is persecution;

• NeaPs New Eng. vol. i. p. 141.
+ Bsckui't Hiat. vol. i. p. 54—17.

and that the patent which was granted by King Charles was invalid, and an instrument of injustice, being injurious to the natives, the king of England having no power to dispose of their lands to his own subjects."*

In the month of October following he appeared again before the court, and received the sentence of banishment for his dangerous opinions, as they are called; the ministers, as well as the magistrates, approving of the sentence. The sentence of the court was as follows: "Whereas Mr. Roger "Williams, one of the elders of the church of Salem, hath "broached and divulged divers new and dangerous opinions "against the authority of magistrates; has also written "letters of defamation, both of the magistrates and churches "here, and that before any conviction, and yet maintaineth "the same without retraction. It is therefore ordered, that "the said Mr. Williams shall depart out of this jurisdiction, "within six weeks now next ensuing, which if he neglect to * perform, it shall be lawful for die governor and two of tha "magistrates to send him to some place out of this juris"diction, not to return any more without license from the "coutt."+

Having received the barbarous sentence, he left his house, his wife, and his children at Salem, in the depth of a most severe winter, and was driven among the wild Indians, where, for fourteen weeks, as he himself observes, "he knew not what bread or bed did mean." But he found more favour among those blind pagans than among the protestants of New England. They allowed him to settle among them, and ever after treated him with kindness and respect. He there laid the foundation of the colony of Providence and Rhode-island, and is supposed to have been the founder of the first free government the world ever knew, at least since the rise of antichrist; effectually securing to all subjects Free And Full Liberty Of Conscience. The principle of his government was adopted by fourteen out of the seventeen United States, at the time of the American revolution. The grand principle of this government was, " That no man, or company of men, ought to be molested by the ruling powers, on account of their religion, or for any opinion received or practised in any matter of that nature; accounting it no small part of their happiness that they may therein be left to their own liberty." Whether Mr. Williams, indeed, espoused all those sentiments with

• Backus's Hist. vol. i. p. 68.—Morse and Parish's Hist, of New Eog-. P- 86. t Ibid. p. 156.

which he was charged, we do not attempt to determine; but he appears to have been the first of our countrymen who thoroughly understood the grounds of civil and religious liberty. The famous Mr. John Cotton, and the rest of the ministers of New England, were so far concerned in his prosecution and banishment as to shew, that while they made loud outcries against popery, they themselves retained and cherished the very worst part of it, even its intolerant and persecuting spirit. This will be a reproach to them, even to the latest posterity.* Mr. Williams called the place to which he was banished Providence, "from a sense of God's merciful providence to him in his distress; and though, for a considerable time, he suffered much fatigue and want, he provided a refuge for persons persecuted for conscience' sake."i

About the year \6'39 he embraced the sentiments of the baptists; and being in want of one to administer the ordinance of baptism," he was baptized by one of his community, then Mr. Williams baptized him and the rest of the society." This appears to have been the first baptist church in America.; In the year 1644 Mr. Williams came to England, with the view of procuring a charter; and though, upon his arrival, he found the nation deeply involved in civil war, he succeeded in obtaining it of the parliament, under the name of "The Incorporation Of Providence PlantaTions IN THE NARRAGANSET-BAY, IN NEW ENGLAND, with full power, and authority to rule themselves, and such others as shall hereafter inhabit within any part of the said tract of land, by such form of civil government as by voluntary consent of all, or the greater part of them, they shall find most suitable to their state and condition."

While Mr. Williams was in London to procure this charter, he published a book, called, " The Bloody Tenet of Persecution for the Cause of Conscience," 1644. This tvork appeared to Mr. Cotton of dangerous tendency, therefore he published an answer to it, entitled, "The Bloody Tenet washed and made White in the Blood of the Lamb," 1647- Mr. Williams replied to this in a work entitled, "The Bloody Tenet yet more Bloody, by Mr. Cotton's endeavour to wash it White in the Blood of the Lamb," 1652. The grand principle for which he contended was, "That persons may, with less sin, be forced to marry whom

* MS. Account.—BackuVa Hist. vol. i. p. 69,70, 112.—Mather's New England, b. vii. p. 7—9.

+ Morse and Parish's Hist. p. 87. J Backus's Hist. vol. i. p. 156.

they cannot love, than to worship where Uiey cannot believe:" and he denied " that Christ had appointed the civil sword as a remedy against false teachers." Mr. Cotton affirmed, and endeavoured to prove, the contrary sentiment. He maintained that the civil sword was appointed as the remedy in this case; and that it was matter of perpetual equity to put to death any apostate seducing idolater, or heretic, who sought to draw the souls of the people from the Lord their God. Mr. Williams clearly saw the result of these principles, and in his work he addressed a letter to Governor Endicot, in which lie said, " By your principles and conscience, such as you count heretics, blasphemers, and seducers, must be put to death. You cannot be faithful to your principles and conscience without it." About four years after this Endicot put to death four persons, and pleaded conscience for the propriety of his conduct.*

Mr. Williams, in pleading the cause of religious liberty, asks Mr. Cotton, "If Jesus Christ have left a power with the civil governors of this world, for establishing, governing, and reforming his church, what is become of his care and love, his wisdom and faithfulness ; seeing in all ages, since he left the world, he hath generally left her destitute of such qualified princes and governors, and in the course of his providence furnished her with those whom he knew would be as fit as wolves to protect and feed his sheepT't The publication of his book in England gave great offence to the presbyterians, who exclaimed against it as full of. heresy and blasphemy. But his principles having been tried, and found to be the soundest policy, both England and America ■should unite in erecting a monument to perpetuate the name of Roger Williams, as the first governor who ever pleaded that liberty of conscience was the birthright of man, and granted it to" those who in opinion differed from himself, when he had the power of withholding it.

His practice, also, was founded on the generous principles of the gospel. He was " not overcome of evil, but overcame evil with good;" and, in their wars with the Iudians, he was exceedingly useful to those by whom he had been persecuted. He was at the same time particularly zealous and laborious in promoting the conversion of the Indians, an account of whose manners, customs, and languages he afterwards published. He was so universally beloved and revered, that he was sometimes chosen governor of the colony: he, never

» Ivlmey's Hist, of Baptists, p. 218, 219.
-T Backus'* Hist, vol, i. p. 189.

theless, continued pastor of the baptist church to the end of his days. This enlightened legislator died in the year 1683, aged eighty-four years.* In addition to the pieces mentioned above, he was the author of a work entitled, "The Hireling Ministry none of Christ's; or, a Discourse touching the Propagating of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, humbly presented to such pious and honourable Hands whom the present Debate thereof concerns," 1652. Also, " George Fox digged out of his Burrows;" written against the quakers.