“Roger Williams Banished Because He Opposed Sunday Laws” American Sentinel 10, 29, p. 227.

THE following paragraphs from the “Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge,” article “Roger Williams,” show that seventh-day observers are in good company in suffering because of their opposition to compulsory Sunday observance:—

He [Williams] went to Salem, where, in April [1631] the church asked him to become their teacher. But, as we learn from Winthrop, “at a court held at Boston (upon information to the governor that they of Salem had called Mr. Williams to the office of teacher), a letter was written from the court to Mr. Endicott to this effect; that whereas Mr. Williams had refused to join with the congregation at Boston, because they would not make a public declaration of their repentance for having communion with the churches of England while they lived there; and besides had declared his opinion that the magistrate might not punish a breach of the sabbath nor any other offense, as it was [which was] a breach of the first table [first four commandments of the Decalogue]; therefore they marveled they would choose him without advising with the councils and withal desiring that they would forbear to proceed till they had conferred about it.” The ferences was, that, in the summer or early autumn, Williams withdrew to Plymouth….

Williams returned to Salem in the latter half of the year 1633, some of the Plymouth people having become so attached to him that they removed thither also. He became assistant to the pastor, and on the death of the latter, in 1634, was himself made pastor of the church. During his whole ministry there, he held the very highest place in the love and honor of the people of Salem.

But certain of his opinions brought upon him the displeasure of the authorities of the colony. He was repeatedly cited to appear before the General Court; and in October, 1635, it was “ordered that the said Mr. Williams shall depart out of this jurisdiction within six weeks now next ensuing.” Permission was afterwards given him to remain at Salem until spring, but as it was soon reported, that, at gatherings in his own house, he had continued to utter the objectionable teachings, an officer was sent to Salem in January, 1636, to apprehend him, in order to put him on board ship, and send him back to England. On the officer’s arrival at Salem, it was found that Williams had departed three days before, whither could not be learned.

The most noted of the proscribed opinions of Williams was the doctrine that the civil magistrate should not inflict punishment for purely religious error. It has been urged that it was not simply for is doctrine of religious liberty, but for other opinions also, that Williams was banished. This, however, will not exculpate the General Court; for we find them enacting a law, that “If any person or person within the jurisdiction … shall deny … their [the magistrates’] lawful right or authority … to punish the outward breaches of the first table … every such person or persons shall be sentenced to banishment.” In other words, though it be admitted that Williams was banished for other utterances, together with the proclamation of the doctrine of religious freedom, the court deemed it proper to decree banishment for that teaching alone. Certain others of Williams’ opinions were condemned, e. g. those regarding the royal patent, the administration of certain oaths, etc.; and it is declared by some that these doctrines threatened the civil peace and thus rendered him justly liable to exile. But in Rhode Island, where the teachings of Williams and of all others were freely permitted, life and property and civil order were as secure as in Massachusetts. In other words, the Rhode Island experiment showed that Williams’ teachings were not dangerous to civil order, and that therefore his banishment from Massachusetts was unnecessary, and consequently unjust.

There is a striking parallel between the banishment of Roger Williams and the imprisonment of Seventh-day Adventists to-day. Williams denied the right of the civil magistrate to punish men for breaking a sabbath; so do Seventh-day Adventists. The persecutors of Williams declared that his opposition to Sunday statutes would destroy civil order; the persecutors of Seventh-day Adventists assert the same. Williams continued his opposition to Sunday statutes in the face of an enactment forbidding it; so do Seventh-day Adventists. For his opposition Williams was banished; for their opposition Seventh-day Adventists are not in jail at Dayton, Tenn.

Our secular histories are full of praise for Roger Williams, because of his opposition to Church and State union of his day, and Baptist historians and Baptists generally are proud, and justly so, of his noble stand against religious legislation. But if he was right in opposing Sunday statutes then, and in suffering banishment rather than cease his opposition to them, why ought not all Baptists and all admirers of Williams to rally to the defense of Seventh-day Adventists who are to-day, and in America, suffering imprisonment for the same offense? Why is it that certain Baptist papers praise the conduct of Roger Williams and denounce his persecutors, while denouncing the same conduct in Seventh-day Adventists, and indorsing their arrest and imprisonment? Consistency, thou art a jewel!

The Indiana Baptist states the situation forcibly when it says:—

Roger Williams should be on earth again to teach some Baptists that “the civil magistrate has no authority to punish breaches of the first table of the Decalogue.” We are yet far from the recognition of the right of every man to perfect religious liberty.

Yes, a second Roger Williams is sorely needed; and we have hopes that we are to have such a man in the person of H. L. Wayland, of the Examiner National Baptist and Christian Inquirer, who is now doing noble, courageous work in that direction.

In the words of the Examiner and National Baptist: “We wonder that the very stones do not cry out against such travesties of justice, that Christian men do not lift their voices in protest against such wicked perversion of religion, this insult to the name of Christ. And, in particular, why do not Papists, whose fathers stood against the world for soul-liberty, make themselves heard when these relics of medieval bigotry and persecuting intolerance are found in our free country?”

We appeal to all Baptists and all lovers of justice and right. Look upon the scene of Roger Williams bidding good-by to home and loved ones before fleeing into the wilderness from the hand of persecution! Look at that scene and remember that it has been repeated scores of times in the last few years in the States of Tennessee, Maryland, and Georgia! The eight imprisoned men at Dayton, Tenn.,—imprisoned for their faithfulness to the same principle for which Roger Williams was banished—are men with human hearts, men who love their homes and families and are in turn loved by wife and children; and likely there were moistened eyes when the parting came, and the little ones clung to father’s side. Oh, when will men cease to martyr the true heroes of their day while engaged in building the monuments of those martyred by their fathers! Thank God, there are men to-day who with a weeping wife pressing their hand and the little ones clinging to their garments, will, with resolute face, look heavenward and pledge freedom and fortune, honor and life, to the maintenance of truth and religious liberty! Thank God that faithfulness to truth and conscience has not perished from the earth!

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