In 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
*Helwys and his followers had been baptized by affusion, i.e., pouring as believers.
In 1684 Hercules Collins penned a discourse from his prison cell in London’s notorious Newgate Prison. The occasion of this discourse upon Job 3:17-18 was the death of two of his fellow prisoners, Francis Bampfield and Zachary Ralphson. The purpose was to provide comfort to those like him who had been imprisoned for their religious convictions. Near the end of the discourse, Collins reflects upon the rest that all God’s people will experience in heaven. He writes:
after the Resurrection comes the day of Jubile; in the Jubile of old, upon the sound of the Trumpet, they were every man to return to their Possessions; so when the great Trumpet shall sound, and the Dead in Christ Rise first, we shall take Possession of our Eternal Inheritance, which Christ is gone to prepare and secure for us: this Jubile was to return of old, but once in fifty years, but in Heaven in glory, it’s all Jubile; in this year of Jubile, the Jews were not to Sow nor Reap, but it was to be a year of Rest unto them: O! when we enter upon our spiritual one, all our labouring under Sin, Suffering, Satanical Temptations, will have end, and we shall Rest from our Labours. This temporary Jubile continued but a year, and then to their Toyl and labour again; Oh but the Spiritual Jubile will be an Everlasting Eternal one, that Rest which remains for the people of God will know no end: (Counsel for the Living, Occasioned from the Dead, 32-33).
I was privileged to be asked to contribute an article to Grace Magazine of the UK on persecution in 17th-century Baptist life. It will be probably come as no surprise to those familiar with my research that I chose to focus on “Hercules Collins and Enduring Persecution.” The article is available in PDF format.
Thanks to Grace Magazine for granting me permission to post my article.
Grace Magazine (June 2011), 12-13.