Clarke’s church became distinctly Baptist
John Clarke was born in Suffolk County, England on October 03, 1609, and received pedo-baptism five days later. Because the University of Leyden shows a “Johannes Clarke” among its students in 1635, some conclude that he attended that famous Dutch school and while there became acquainted with Dutch Baptists. Clarke was a reputable physician, occasionally a lawyer, an able statesman and diplomat, and a successful Baptist pastor. He was certainly an important instrument in the establishment of religious liberty in Rhode Island and the American colonies. He along with many other early Baptists in America, step by step embraced Baptist principles. Often they left the English state church (Anglican) and joined the ranks of the Dissenters because they were moved by the horrible persecutions of the sects, and then they were ultimately persuaded of believers baptism and freedom of conscience as biblical truth. The corruption among the state-church clergy, spiritual deadness were also other catalysts. The belief that Baptist principles were rooted in the Word of God caused John Clarke to separate from the Puritans in New England. We do know that he was one that was relieved of his weapons by Boston authorities in 1637 on suspicion of being “tinged with anabaptism.” There was a church in Portsmouth by 1638 that had two factions. One group held for the authority of the “inner light,” and the other held for the authority of the written Scripture. The controversy led to a division, and the church scattered. Clarke led a group and set up a church at Newport, Rhode Island, where, under his leadership, it became distinctly Baptist. Satan tried to destroy this church through schisms of various kinds, but it remained for the rest of the century, as one of the leading Baptist churches in America.
Dr. Greg J. Dixon: From: This Day in Baptist History Vol. I: Cummins/Thompson, pp. 410-11.
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The unknown Apostle of Liberty
1676 – On this day one of the greatest of our Baptist leaders and American founders, Dr. John Clarke, died. He was born in London in 1609 and became skilled as a physician when apprenticed to a doctor. His fame lies in the founding of Rhode Island with Roger Williams and one of the first Baptist churches in America. He also, along with Williams, laid the principles of religious and civil liberty which led to the First Amendment to our Constitution. His journey toward the Baptists after leaving Anglicanism saw him going first to the dissenters and then he moved to Leyden, Holland, to flee persecution. It was there that he came in contact with some Baptists but he was yet to travel to America, join the Puritans, become disgusted with their intolerance toward the Baptists and other dissenters and finally become a Baptist pastor himself. But no doubt his greatest achievement was securing a permanent charter for Rhode Island. He spent twelve years in England to do it, first trying through Cromwell and then finally through King Charles II after he was restored to the throne. This Baptist charter on religious liberty was the first charter on total religious liberty in the history of the human race. It read in part, “Our royal will is, that no person within said Colony, at any time…, shall be…molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question, for differences of opinion in matters of religion, that do not actually disturb the civil peace of said Colony…not using this liberty to licentiousness and profaneness, not to civil injury or outward disturbance of others…” What a great debt we owe John Clarke.
Dr. Greg J. Dixon, from: This Day in Baptist History Vol. I: Cummins/Thompson /, p. 160.
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Religious liberty a Baptist concept
1872 – The Roger Williams Monument was unveiled in the National Capitol. The dedicatory speech was delivered by Sen. Henry Bowen Anthony from Rhode Island. Sen. Bowen said, “Religious freedom, which now by general consent underlies the foundation principle of civilized government, was at that time looked upon as a wilder theory than any proposition, moral, political, or religious, that has since engaged the serious attention of mankind. It was regarded as impracticable, disorganizing, impious, and if not utterly subversive of social order, it was not so only because its manifest absurdity would prevent any serious effort to enforce it.” The monument, a sculpture of Roger Williams, had been done by Franklin Simmons in 1872 and may be seen today on the first floor of the House Wing in the Hall of Columns in Washington, D.C. In 1965 our National Congress authorized a National Memorial for Roger Williams, and 4½ acres were purchased by the National Park Service in 1974 in downtown Providence for this purpose. Though Roger Williams died in 1683, his Baptist convictions of religious liberty has lived on in America, and we owe an incalculable debt to his vision of freedom. Religious freedom was unknown in America in the days of the early settlers! One had to conform to the institutional church and later to the state church, or be banished from the settlement. Williams in 1635, was tried by the General Court and found guilty of “ newe and dangerous opinions against the authorities.” He escaped just ahead of Massachusetts soldiers who had been sent to arrest him and deport him to England. There he was given land by two Indian chiefs. He led in forming Rhode Island. He also founded Providence, RI and a Baptist church.
Dr. Greg J. Dixon; adapted from: This Day in Baptist History Vol. I: Cummins Thompson /, pp. 12-13.
He made it clear that all associations are entirely “voluntary”.
December 06, 1821 – The First State convention was formed in South Carolina, “for the promotion of evangelical and useful knowledge, by means of religious education and the support of missionary service among the destitute…and the promotion of the true interest of the churches of Christ in general, and of their union, love and harmony in particular.” And yet again, “The Convention shall recognize the independence and liberty of the Churches of Christ, and consequently shall not in any case arbitrarily interfere with their spiritual obligations.” Denominational colleges were begun rapidly in the states that followed the pattern of establishing state conventions. The first cohesive effort among Baptists began in 1707. It was for the purpose of educating its ministers and the spread of the gospel in the world. The growth of associations was very slow among the Baptist churches for fear of the assumption of power by the associations. It was 60 years after the Philadelphia Association that the Warren Association, of Rhode Island was formed. It was only after assurances from men like Edward T. Hiscox in his Baptist Directory (1866) did the growth of the associations proliferate. He made it clear that all associations are entirely “voluntary”. No church or individual was obligated to unite with them and they “can leave them when they wish.” The research by Robert G. Gardner reveals that in 1780 there were approximately 1066 Baptist churches in America and only 14 Associations, representing 286 churches which were less than 25%. However that was to change drastically when Luther Rice returned from the field from India. The birth of the Triennial Convention for the cause of missions, the development of associations and state conventions became a reality.
Dr. Greg J. Dixon from: This Day in Baptist History Vol. I: Cummins Thompson /, pp. 508-10.
Susannah was the great granddaughter of Roger Williams
November 25, 1707 – Valentine and Susannah Wightman received a summons from the County of New London, Connecticut (Groton) to appear before Richard Christopher…to answer to the charges and be dealt with as the Law directs. In 1704 a company of Dissenters petitioned the “Hounorable Court at Newhaven” that though they differed in “some Poynts of Religion” but “yet we desier to live Pesable…with our neighbors…that since it has Pleased the Almity God to put it into the hart of our grasious Queen to grant us dissenters proclaimated liberty of Conscience…and we understand that your laws requires us to Petition to you for the Settling of our Meeting…do beseech of you that you would not deny us herein…that our meeting might be…held at Will Starks in New London.” The request was ignored, and accepting silence as consent, the group of 12 dissenters called Mr. Wightman to be their pastor. The young pastor, his wife, and his two children came to Groton from Rhode Island on Sept. 6, 1707. Susannah was the granddaughter of Obadiah Holmes and the great-granddaughter of Roger Williams.The case against them was resolved on June 4, 1708, when it was proved that Wightman was in compliance with the Toleration Act of England which was in effect in America at that time. From 1712 to 1714, Wightman made regular trips to New York, and his converts were formed into a Baptist church, which became the first in New York City. In sharp opposition of the Standing Order churches he founded Baptist churches in Waterford, Lyme, Stonington, and other places. A man named Wait Palmer was converted to Baptist views under Wightman’s ministry and he baptized Shubal Sterns who became the “Father of the Separate Baptists.”
Dr. Greg J. Dixon from: This Day in Baptist History Vol. I: Cummins /Thompson/ , pp. 491-92.