Speaking Truth to Power: Thomas Helwys and Our Baptist Heritage

A short Declaration cover pageIn 1612, the proto-Baptist Thomas Helwys published a book entitled A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity. In an original edition of the work preserved in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, there is a handwritten note on the flyleaf of the work addressed to King James I from Thomas Helwys. This volume was apparently a dedication copy to be presented to the King of England. Helwys, who had just returned to England from the Netherlands with a band of baptized believers,* intended to make a statement to the King regarding religious liberty. Apparently, the King received the message as Helwys was unsurprisingly arrested shortly thereafter and languished in the infamous Newgate Prison until he died four years later in 1616. Helwys’ courageous address to the King of England deserves to be read and remembered as we consider the Baptist contribution to religious liberty. Baptists have a rich heritage of speaking truth to power, often at great risk.

Below is a transcription of the text of Helwys handwritten note to King James I and below that is a photocopy of the original.
     Heare, O King, and dispise not ye counsell of ye poore and let their complaints come before thee.
     The King is a mortall man and not God, therefore hath no power over ye immortall soules of his subiects, to make lawes & ordinances for them, and to set spirituall Lords over them.
     If the King have authority to make spirituall Lords & lawes, then he is an immortall God and not a mortall man.
     O King be not seduced by deceivers to sine so against God whome thou oughtest to obey, nor against thy poore subiects who ought and will obey thee in all thinges with body life and goods or els let their lives be taken from ye earth.
     God save ye Kinge
Tho: Helwys.
Spittlefeild
neare London.
Thomas Helwys Dedication to King James
_________________
*Helwys and his followers had been baptized by affusion, i.e., pouring as believers.

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