FREEDOM EXISTED IN NAME ONLY
1638 – Conditions in the Massachusetts Bay Colony had become intolerable for any who held views that tended toward liberty of conscience or baptism for believers only. Isaac Backus stated that the Massachusetts Court ruled that if any group wanted to meet and establish a church they had to first have the approval of the magistrates and the other ministers in the area. If you did not get approval you were not admitted to the “freedom of the Commonwealth”. There was great controversy. The House of Deputies was dissolved and reappointed to suit the ministers. Pastors, men, women and children were banished from the colonies and others were put to death as heretics. Massachusetts made a law that everyone was taxed to pay for the support of religious ministers, even though they had no vote in choosing them. Under this terrible influence. John Clarke, the Baptist preacher, his brother Joseph, and many others moved away to Rhode Island. On March 7, 1638, they entered into a Covenant to incorporate themselves into a body politic, submitting everything to God and following His absolute laws as guide and judge. Backus stated, when they could not find laws to govern themselves in the New Testament, they returned to the laws of Moses and elected a Judge and three Elders to rule over them. On March 12, 1640, they changed their plan of government and elected a governor and four assistants until they came under a Charter from England at a later time. It becomes very clear that any government of men is as fallible as the men who govern, and that the trials and errors of the colonies, endeavoring to set up systems of government to guarantee order and yet give the people governed liberty of conscience, resulted in a Constitution and a Bill of Rights that brought the leaders as well as the people under the law. Our Constitution was not thrown together but was born after much travail by millions of people over hundreds of years of suffering. God bless America.
Barbara Ketay from: This Day in Baptist History Vol. I: Cummins Thompson /, pp. 94-95.
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Tag Archives: freedom
Don’t Take Freedom for Granted
Around the world in this twenty-first century, obedient followers of Christ are forced to meet secretly to worship. These saints are in constant danger, if discovered, of being fined, imprisoned, and perhaps martyred. Their clandestine meetings must be carefully guarded, for continually they are hunted and hounded by godless authorities. In Great Britain, prior to the Edict of Toleration in 1689, Baptist believers found themselves in the same condition. We are greatly indebted to notes of Edward Terrill, of the Bristol Baptist congregation in Bristol, England. He recorded a running log of that assembly during those fright-filled days. Mr. Terrill died in 1685 or ’86. During that period from 1640 to 1648, several pastors of that daring flock were arrested, imprisoned, and martyred. The record for 1682 is similar to the experience of other years.
*Jan. 29. The Church met at four different places. Many of them went in the afternoon on Durdham Down, and got into a cave of a rock toward Clifton, where Brother Thomas Whinnell preached to them.
*March 12. Met in the fields by Barton Hundred, and Mr. Samuel Buttall of Plymouth preached in the fore-part of the day, and Brother Whinnell in the evening. It was thought there were near a thousand persons in the morning. * March 19. Met in the lanes beyond Baptist Mills. *April 13. Met in the rain in a lane.
*April 20. A day of prayer, from nine to five in the evening, at Mr. Jackson’s over the Down, in peace.”
These patriot-preachers were staunchly patriotic, seriously independent, and steadfastly courageous. They were found in almost all of the various Protestant denominations at the time: Baptist, Presbyterian, Congregational, Anglican, Lutheran, German Reformed, etc. Their Sunday sermons — more than Patrick Henry’s oratory, Sam Adams’ and James Warren’s “Committees of Correspondence,” or Thomas Paine’s “Summer Soldiers and Sunshine Patriots” — inspired, educated, and motivated the colonists to resist the tyranny of the British Crown, and fight for their freedom and independence. Without the Black Regiment, there is absolutely no doubt that we would still be a Crown colony, with no Declaration of Independence, no U.S. Constitution, no Bill of Rights, and little liberty.
The exploits of the Black Regiment are legendary. When General George Washington asked Lutheran pastor John Peter Muhlenberg to raise a regiment of volunteers, Muhlenberg gladly agreed. Before marching off to join Washington’s army, he delivered a powerful sermon from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 that concluded with these words: “The Bible tells us there is a time for all things and there is a time to preach and a time to pray, but the time for me to preach has passed away, and there is a time to fight, and that time has come now. Now is the time to fight! Call for recruits! Sound the drums!”
Then Muhlenberg took off his clerical robe to reveal the uniform of a Virginia colonel. Grabbing his musket from behind the pulpit, he donned his colonel’s hat and marched off to war. And as he did, more than 300 of his male congregants followed him.
Muhlenberg’s brother quotes John Peter as saying, “You may say that as a clergyman nothing can excuse my conduct. I am a clergyman, it is true, but I am a member of society as well as the poorest layman, and my liberty is as dear to me as any man. I am called by my country to its defense. The cause is just and noble. Were I a Bishop … I should obey without hesitation; and as far am I from thinking that I am wrong, I am convinced it is my duty so to do — a duty I owe to my God and my Country.”
Remember, too, it was Pastor Jonas Clark and his congregants at the Church of Lexington who comprised that initial body of brave colonists called Minutemen. These were the men, you will recall, who withstood British troops advancing on Concord to confiscate the colonists’ firearms and arrest Sam Adams and John Hancock, and fired “the shot heard round the world.”
The “Supreme Knight” and great martyr of Presbyterianism was Pastor James Caldwell of the Presbyterian church of Elizabethtown (present-day Elizabeth), New Jersey. He was called the “Rebel High Priest” and the “Fighting Chaplain.” He is most famous for the story “Give ’em Watts!” It is said that at the Springfield engagement, when the militia ran out of wadding for their muskets, Parson Caldwell galloped to the Presbyterian church and returned with an armload of hymnbooks, threw them to the ground, and exclaimed, “Now, boys, give ’em Watts! Give ’em Watts!” — a reference to the famous hymn writer, Isaac Watts.
Not an easy path: Presbyterian minister James Caldwell, who gained fame during the battle of Springfield, New Jersey, when he gathered Watts hymnals from a church for use as rifle wadding and shouted to the troops as he handed them out, “put Watts into them,” was killed in the war, as was his wife.
Then there was the Baptist, Joab Houghton, of New Jersey. Houghton was in the Hopewell Baptist Meeting-house at worship when he received the first information of Concord and Lexington, and of the retreat of the British to Boston with heavy losses. His great-grandson gave the following eloquent description of the way he treated the tidings:
Stilling the breathless messenger, he sat quietly through the services, and when they were ended, he passed out, and mounting the great stone block in front of the meeting-house, he beckoned to the people to stop. Men and women paused to hear, curious to know what so unusual a sequel to the service of the day could mean. At the first words a silence, stern as death, fell over all. The Sabbath quiet of the hour and of the place was deepened into a terrible solemnity. He told them all the story of the cowardly murder at Lexington by the royal troops; the heroic vengeance following hard upon it; the retreat of Percy; the gathering of the children of the Pilgrims round the beleaguered hills of Boston. Then pausing, and looking over the silent throng, he said slowly: “Men of New Jersey, the red coats are murdering our brethren of New England! Who follows me to Boston?” And every man of that audience stepped out into line, and answered, “I!” There was not a coward nor a traitor in old Hopewell Baptist Meeting-house that day. [Source: Cathcart, The Baptists and the American Revolution, 1876]
Consider, too, Pastor M’Clanahan, of Culpepper County, Virginia, who raised a military company of Baptists and served in the field, both as a captain and chaplain. Reverend David Barrow “shouldered his musket and showed how fields were won.” Another Baptist, General Scriven, when ordered by a British officer to give up Sunbury, near Savannah, sent back the answer, “Come and get it.” Deacon Mills, of the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia, “commanded skillfully” 1,000 riflemen at the Battle of Long Island, and for his valor was made a brigadier general. Deacon Loxley of the same church commanded the artillery at the Battle of Germantown with the rank of colonel. (Source: McDaniel, The People Called Baptists, 1925)
A list drawn up by Judge Curwen, an ardent Tory, contained 926 names of British sympathizers living in America — colonial law had already exiled a larger number — but there was “not the name of one Baptist on the list.” Maybe this is why President George Washington, in his letter to the Baptists, paid the following tribute: “I recollect with satisfaction that the religious society of which you are members has been, throughout America, uniformly and almost unanimously, the firm friend to civil liberty, and the persevering promoters of our glorious Revolution.” Maybe it explains why Thomas Jefferson could write to a Baptist church, saying, “We have acted together from the origin to the end of a memorable Revolution.”
Some of these pastors were former slaves
The Ogeechee Baptist Church was formed in Savannah, Georgia on Jan. 02, 1803 with 250 members which was the third black Baptist church instituted in America. The first black Baptist church in America was the First African Baptist Church of Savannah, the results of the ministry of Abraham Marshall and Jesse Peter ((black), who instituted the Kiokee Baptist Church in Appling, GA. The pastor at Savannah was George Lisle (black), who eventually went as a missionary to Jamaica. Some of these pastors were former slaves, like Lisle and John Jasper who had been given freedom by their masters. However, when Rev. Henry Cunningham was called to the First African Baptist Church of Philadelphia (the sixth black church in America), his master wouldn’t release him. Henry had been a deacon in the 2nd Baptist church in Savannah (black) and later served as its pastor before being called to the Philadelphia church. Some members asked his master to let him go north to raise money to purchase his freedom but his master refused without surety, but there was no way that Henry could provide such a sum. But thank God, two faithful members of 2nd church, who were free-born, stepped forward and gave themselves into servitude as surety for Henry. The money was raised, the men were released and joined their beloved pastor in Philadelphia and formed the nucleus of the First African Baptist Church in Philadelphia. “Greater love hath no man than this…”
Dr. Greg J. Dixon from: This Day in Baptist History Vol. IIII: Cummins /, pp. 3-4.
John Gifford, a Baptist Pastor…led him to Christ
November 30, 1628 – John Bunyan was born in the midst of the struggle between Christianity and infidelity. The year he was born was a great victory for freedom in the passing of the English Bill of Rights. The sum of the act was that “no man shall be taxed without the consent of Parliament, nor be arrested, imprisoned, or executed but by due course of law.” However, every attempt was made by the court (throne) to recover arbitrary power. To attain this power, horrible atrocities were perpetrated on people beyond description. Bunyan was born in the village of Elstow, one mile from Bedford. He was born into a family of Tinkers. Bunyan described them as being, “of that rank of the meanest and most despised of all the families in the land.” At a time when very few were taught to read and write his father sent him to school where John learned both but soon forgot both utterly. He gave himself over to sin, principally lying, swearing, and profaning the Sabbath. He experienced agonies of conviction. He had several brushes with death such as drowning’s and snake bite. He also served in the army and fought in the battle of Leicester. He was spared any serious injuries although he took on the wicked habits of his peers. Bunyan married a very poor, but pious, woman. She encouraged him with two books. The Plain Man’s Pathway to Heaven, and the Practice of Piety, and through this he regained his ability to read. Her affectionate compassion became a blessing and his rugged heart was softened and he felt alarm for the Salvation of his soul. Another woman who was loose and ungodly rebuked him for his cursing and said that his oaths made her tremble. Some women talking about the New Birth took him to John Gifford, a Baptist Pastor who led him to Christ, and the rest is history.
Dr. Greg J. Dixon from: This Day in Baptist History Vol. I: Cummins /Thompson/, pp. 499-500.