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study of the law is not certain ; but that he was a close student of theology his writings sufficiently attest. If, as is stated, he underwent episcopal ordination and undertook the charge of a parish, it is certain that his bias was strong towards Puritanism, and that to the ceremonies and ritual enforced by Laud he was not a conformist.
That Williams's position in England was not humble, we may conclude from his having had an interview with King James. If he were ordained as a parish priest, he perhaps belonged to the diocese of Lincoln; for he alludes in his “ Bloudy Tenent more Bloudy,” to his riding with Cotton and Hooker to and from Sempringham (in Lincolnshire), on which occasion his objections, drawn from Scripture, were stated against the use of Common Prayer. Cotton vindicated his use of it by alleging, " that he selected the good and best prayers
" in the book, as the author of the Council of Trent used to do.” It is probable that Williams referred to his own case when he said that “they knew many servants of God in great sufferings witnessed against such a ministry of the word and such a ministry of prayer.” The darkening religious horizon of England in the early years of the reign of Charles I. naturally directed his thoughts to New England.
Welcomed as he was on landing at Boston, in a very short time serious differences of opinion arose between him and the church planted in that town. He had left his native land in order to preserve unsullied the sanctity of conscience, and he would allow nothing in his own practice, or his conformity to others' exactions, to sully it in the land of his adoption. The differences between Williams and the NewEngland churches are excellently described by Mr. Bancroft. We give them at once in his words, although they were not all at once developed.
“ So soon, therefore, as Williams arrived in Boston, he found himself among the New-England churches, but not of them. They had not yet renounced the use of force in religion; and he could not with his entire mind adhere to churches which retained the offensive features of English legislation. The principles of Roger Williams led him into perpetual collision with the clergy and the government of Massachusetts. It had ever been their custom to respect the Church of England, and in the mother country they frequented its service without scruple; yet its principles and its administration were still harshly exclusive. Williams would hold no communion with intolerance; for, said he, the doctrine of persecution for cause of conscience is most evidently and lamentably contrary to the doctrine of Christ Jesus.'
" The magistrates insisted on the presence of every man at public worship; Williams reprobated the law; the worst statute in the English code was that which did but enforce attendance upon the parish church. To compel men to unite with those of a different creed, he regarded as an open violation of their natural rights; to drag to public worship the irreligious and the unwilling, seemed only like requiring hypocrisy. An unwilling soul is dead in sin,' such was his argument; and to force the indifferent from one worship to another, ' was like shifting a dead man into several changes of apparel.' No one should be bound to worship, or," he added, "to maintain a worship, against his own consent.' What! exclaimed his antagonists, amazed at his tenets,
is not the labourer worthy of his hire? Yes, replied he, "from them that hire him.'
" The magistrates were selected exclusively from the members of the church; with equal propriety, reasoned Williams, might ‘a doctor of physick or a pilot' be selected according to his skill in theology and his standing in the church.
" It was objected to him that his principles subverted all good government. The commander of the vessel of state, replied Williams, may maintain order on board the ship, and see that it pursues its course steadily, even though the dissenters of the crew are not compelled to attend the public prayers of their companions.
“But the controversy finally turned on the question of the right and duty of magistrates to guard the minds of the people against corruption, and to punish what would seem to them error and heresy. Magistrates, Williams protested, are but the agents of the people, or its trustees, on whom no spiritual power in matters of worship can ever be conferred, since conscience belongs to the individual and is not the property of the body politic; and with admirable dialectics, clothing the great truth in its boldest and most general forms, he asserted that the civil magistrate may not intermeddle even to stop a church from apostacy and heresy,' that his power extends only to the bodies and goods and outward estate of men.' With corresponding distinctness, he foresaw the influence of his principles on society. The removal of the yoke of soul oppression,' to use the words in which at a later day he confirmed his early view, as it will prove an act of mercy and righteousness to the enslaved nations, so it is of binding force to engage the whole and every interest and conscience to preserve the common liberty and peace.'”—Bancroft's History, I. 368—371.
The church at Boston was at the time of Roger Williams's arrival under the care of Mr. Wilson. With many excellencies of character, he was, though sincere, narrow-minded, as his conduct towards Mrs. Hutchinson shewed. He was perhaps not insensible to professional dignity, and easily wounded by any failure of that deference to which he had long been babituated. Williams refused to join the church at Boston, a circumstance which would both surprise and irritate the venerable pastor. He was, however, immediately invited to become an assistant teacher to the church at Salem, over which Mr. Skelton was the pastor. He accepted the call and commenced his ministry in New England, April 12. The slight which he had put on the church at Boston was now resented, and the General Court of the colony was induced to forbid his entering on the ministry at Salem. Against this arbitrary violation of the freedom of choice belonging to an independent church, Williams protested, but for the sake of peace withdrew to Plymouth. The Pilgrim Fathers of this most interesting colony freely entertained him according to their ability; he was admitted a member of the church, exercised his gifts amongst them, and was well approved as a teacher. He became, after a time, assistant minister to Mr. Ralph Smith, a man distinguished previously to his arrival in New England “ by his approving the rigid way of Separation principles.” That Roger Williams was not wanting in becoming submission in civil affairs, appears from his entering his name on the list of candidates for the freedom of the State, and by his taking the necessary oaths on the 12th of May.
We have an account of a visit to Plymouth by Governor Winthrop and Mr. Wilson, in Oct., 1632, in these words :-“On the Lord's-day there was a sacrament, and in the afternoon Mr. R. Williams (according to their custom) propounded a question, to which the pastor, Mr. Smith, spoke briefly; then Mr. Williams prophesied; and after the Governor of Plymouth spake to the question; after him the elder; then two or three more of the congregation. Then the elder desired the Governor of Massachusetts and Mr. Wilson to speak to it, which they did. When this was ended, the deacon, Mr. Fuller, put the congregation in mind of the duty of contribution ; whereupon the Governor and all the rest went down to the deacon's seat and put into the box.” From this curious passage, descriptive of an afternoon's service amongst the Pilgrim Fathers, it appears that Roger Williams was not at that time an accepted pastor or regular teacher, but was simply regarded as one having gifts that fitted him for the ministry; for this was the sense in which “prophesying” was used.*
He turned his residence at Plymouth to good account by cultivating the acquaintance of some of the Indian tribes, particularly the Narragansetts, visiting their settlements, studying their language, and familiarizing himself with their customs. He was led to do this, not by a barren curiosity, but by a benevolent desire to promote their interests, temporal and spiritual.
During the early years of the colony of Massachusetts, the power of the clergy was very great, and sometimes was exercised so as to supersede the decisions of the civil governors of the colony. Williams was justified by his observation of the proceedings of ecclesiastics in regarding with suspicious jealousy the growth of clerical influence. Then, as in nearly all subsequent times, it was the custom of the ministers of the bay to meet alternately at each other's houses, and on such occasions it was their wont to discuss the questions of the day that were of greatest moment. Williams would not countenance these assemblies of his brethren, fearing they would grow up into a presbytery. But this was not his only offence during his residence at Plymouth. He composed a treatise on the Royal Patent, in which he vehemently objected against the assumption of King James that he was the first Christian Prince that bad discovered America ; against the use of the term Christendom as applied to Europe ; and against the application to King Charles of three passages in the Revelation. He also argued that the rights of the natives of the soil were of necessity superior to any patent from England. For this work he was summoned before the Court, but he made timely submission, and “the Court applauded his temper, and declared that the matters were not so evil as at first they seemed." +
In 1633, the good people at Salem, still entertaining for the former pastor of their choice a warm affection, sent an earnest invitation to him to return to them. In the autumn of that year he sought from the church at Plymouth a dismissal. It was granted, some professing their satisfaction at parting with one whose principles of separation
* It is very clearly explained in Peirce's Vindication of the Dissenters, pp. 92, 93, by a quotation from the Life of Archbishop Grindal, and Mr. Peirce adds, “The usefulness of these exercises was very great. Slothful ministers were shamed out of their idleness: the elder ministers were made more solicitous to excel in knowledge and virtue, as well as in age: the younger were, by good counsels and examples, taught to instruct their respective congregations: and, in short, they were all the better for their mutual helps." These prophesyings were a sort of religious conference, at which all gifted persons, whether ministers or not, took part.
+ Bancroft, I. 369.
| By an error of the press, this date is in Mr. Underhill's Biographical Introduction, p. xi, given as 1635.
were too refined for them ; others so unwilling to lose the benefit of his ministry that they removed with him to Salem, a distance of more than forty miles.
About the same time that Roger Williams removed to Salem, John Cotton, the minister of Boston, both in Old and New England, landed in America, and undertook the joint pastorship with Mr. Wilson at Boston, an event which had important bearings on the after history of the minister of Salem.
Mr. Skelton, the pastor at Salem, had sickened. Subsequently to his death, which happened August 2, 1634, Roger Williams was chosen as his successor. The appointment was most obnoxious to the authorities of the colony, both lay and clerical, who forbade the church at Salem from proceeding to his ordination. But the church partook of the independent spirit of their pastor, and, in defiance of the veto of the authorities, he was inducted into the pastorate.
As a pastor, his labours were incessant. In his Examination of Mr. Cotton's Letter, he speaks of his “ labours on the Lord's-days” as excessive (p. 388). Mr. Cotton, too, speaks of "the increase of concourse to him on the Lord's-days in private," but, with the evil eye of a persecutor, sees in it only " the neglect or deserting of public ordinances, and the spreading of the leaven of his corrupt imaginations." Thrice in the week did he, in addition to the services of the Lord's. day, instruct the church. Beside all this, he laboured day and night with his own hands in the field for the maintenance of his charge. His energetic labours, so far from softening the anger of his ill-wishers (Mr. Cotton admits), “provoked the magistrates” to immediate measures of severity.
In November, 1834, he was summoned to appear before the Court at Boston to answer for various misbeliefs, theological and political, The allegations made against him were, that he had again taught “publickly against the King's Patent, and our great sin in claiming right thereby to this country," and that he had termed the Church of England antichristian.” (Underhill's Introduction, p. xiii.) In the following spring he was again summoned before the Court to answer for other errors respecting the right of the magistrate to administer an oath to an unregenerate person. Three months after (in July) he was again summoned before the Court to answer other charges. That Roger Williams did not submit to the harsh and narrow judgment of his inquisitors, we may feel well assured by their subsequent proceedings against him, as well as by the native honesty and courage of his character. The church which, notwithstanding the charges against him, had contumaciously elected Roger Williams as their pastor, was made to feel the displeasure of the Court. The people of Salem had petitioned for the grant of a piece of land on Marblehead Neck, on which they conceived they had a just claim. The petition was refused, and the deputies of Salem “ were not received till they should give satisfaction about the other matter."
Williams was filled with righteous indignation at this gross invasion of the civil and religious rights of his people and fellow-townsmen. The crisis called for strong measures, and he advised the church at Salem to withdraw from communion with the other churches. It may indeed be alleged that it was not the church, but the court, of Boston that was
the author of the wrongs done to the people of Salem; but there is the clearest evidence that the clergy were the ruling spirits of that age, and that the struggle was ecclesiastical rather than civil. The same eager thirst for liberty which had induced Roger Williams to separate from the persecuting church of his native land and to cross the Atlantic, now made him a "separatist” from the persecuting churches of New England, and presently forced him to leave his home and brave perils more fearful than those of the stormy ocean.
But fearless as he was, he had some trials which come nearer to the heart of a good man than any public wrongs. In days of persecution there are always some timid spirits unequal to the trial, full of fears, and ready to give up the cause as bad or lost. Some of the Salem flock“ began to waver under the pressure of ministerial power and influence.” (Underhill, p. xiv.) For a time, his wife refused to accompany him in that which he regarded as the path of Christian duty and honour, and we may well suppose that her reproaches were the sharpest thorns by which the Pilgrim's feet were wounded. Added to this, his robust frame, overtasked by unremitting toil and mental anxiety, both greatly increased“ by travels by day and night" in going to and returning from the Court at Boston,* was bowed down by sickness. Thus gently did Williams afterwards write on this subject :
“During my sickness, I humbly appeal unto the Father of spirits for witness of the upright and constant, diligent search my spirit made after him, in the examination of all passages, both my private disquisitions with all the chief of their ministers, and public agitation of points controverted; and what gracious fruit I reaped from that sickness, I hope my soul shall never forget. However I mind not to number up a catalogue of the many censures upon God's servants in the time of God's chastisements and visitations on them, both in scripture, history, and experience. Nor retort the many evils which it pleased God to bring upon some chief procurers of my sorrows, nor upon the whole state immediately after them, which many of their own have observed and reported to me; but I commit my cause to him that judgeth righteously, and yet resolve to pray against their evils, Ps. cxli.” +
The next step taken by the church at Salem under the guidance of Roger Williams was to write letters of expostulation to the churches of which the magistrates composing the Court were members, inciting them to “admonish the magistrates of their injustice.” This appeal to public opinion was regarded by the Court as almost an act of rebellion. The deputies of Salem were deprived of their seats. When Mr. Endicott, the principal deputy, dared to defend the doctrines of the letter, he was thrown into prison. And now came Williams's most painful trial; his people at Salem faltered ; his appeal to them to remove “ the yoke of soul oppression” by an act of entire separation from the other churches was unsuccessful; they deserted their high-minded pastor, and degraded themselves by humiliating submission to the magistrates.
In October, 1635, Roger Williams stood for the last time before the
Salem lies about 14 iniles N.N.E. of Boston; but it must be remembered there were then no roads, and a journey to and fro of 28 miles across rivers and through woods that had never resounded to the woodman's axe, was to the strongest man a laborious task. What is now an hour's easy work, would then occupy a laborious day.
† Mr. Cotton's Letter Examined and Answered, pp. 388, 389.