Tag Archives: John Clarke

276 – Oct. 03 –This Day in Baptist History Past



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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They were arrested for encouraging a brother

I will have no such trash brought to our jurisdiction.” These were the remarks made by Gov. Endicott of the Massachusetts Bay Colony to the plight of the Baptists that were being refused the privileges of Englishmen to have counsel, to be tried by jury, and to know what law they had transgressed. John Spur and John Hazel were taken by warrants dated July 5, 1751 for giving an expression of concern and sympathy to Obadiah Holmes after his beating by the authorities for participating in an unauthorized worship service. John Cotton, the Puritan preacher and prosecutor at John Clarke and Holmes sentencing had preached prior to their sentencing that denying infants’ baptism would overthrow all; and that it was a capital offense and they were soul murderers and deserved the death sentence. The men who whipped Holmes were so brutal that he required a physician to attend to his wounds. Spur only shook Holmes hand and Hazel only said, ‘blessed be God for thee, brother’ and yet they were taken by warrants. Even the attending doctor was the object of inquiry and interrogation. The true nature of a church state and/or a state church is often revealed as one studies church history. Some of the most unrelenting and cruel punishments have been legislated by such unscriptural tribunals. In many cases, they have been carried out with the ferocity far greater than that of pagan religio-political systems. And to think that those Congregationalists viewed themselves as Christian believers.

Dr. Greg J. Dixon From: This Day in Baptist History Vol. I: Cummins/Thompson, pp. 275-76.

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1638 – Conditions in the Massachusetts Bay Colony had become intolerable for any who held views that tended toward liberty of conscience or baptism for believers only. Isaac Backus stated that the Massachusetts Court ruled that if any group wanted to meet and establish a church they had to first have the approval of the magistrates and the other ministers in the area. If you did not get approval you were not admitted to the “freedom of the Commonwealth”. There was great controversy. The House of Deputies was dissolved and reappointed to suit the ministers. Pastors, men, women and children were banished from the colonies and others were put to death as heretics. Massachusetts made a law that everyone was taxed to pay for the support of religious ministers, even though they had no vote in choosing them. Under this terrible influence. John Clarke, the Baptist preacher, his brother Joseph, and many others moved away to Rhode Island. On March 7, 1638, they entered into a Covenant to incorporate themselves into a body politic, submitting everything to God and following His absolute laws as guide and judge. Backus stated, when they could not find laws to govern themselves in the New Testament, they returned to the laws of Moses and elected a Judge and three Elders to rule over them. On March 12, 1640, they changed their plan of government and elected a governor and four assistants until they came under a Charter from England at a later time. It becomes very clear that any government of men is as fallible as the men who govern, and that the trials and errors of the colonies, endeavoring to set up systems of government to guarantee order and yet give the people governed liberty of conscience, resulted in a Constitution and a Bill of Rights that brought the leaders as well as the people under the law. Our Constitution was not thrown together but was born after much travail by millions of people over hundreds of years of suffering. God bless America.
Barbara Ketay from: This Day in Baptist History Vol. I: Cummins Thompson /, pp. 94-95.
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An aged man stands true

1644 – On this day William Witter of Lynn, Massachusetts was arraigned before the Salem Court for “entertaining that the baptism of infants was sinful.”  Later, on Dec. 18, 1645, he was charged with saying that, “they who stayed whiles a child is baptized do worship the devil.”  On June 24, 1651, he was accused of “absenting himself from the public ordinances nine months or more and for being re-baptized.”  In time he united with the Baptist church in Newport, R.I. where Dr. John Clarke was pastor.  However, because of his age and the fact that he was blind, it was impossible to travel that far for services, so on June 19, 1651 Pastor Clarke, Obadiah Holmes, and John Crandall, as representatives of the Baptist church in Newport, upon the request of Bro. Witter, arrived at his home after walking the eighty miles in two days.  Spies informed the authorities of the Mass. Bay Colony that services were conducted on Sunday morning at the Witter home without the authority of the Congregational Church, which caused the three men to be arrested and hauled away to a tavern.  Then to cleanse their souls they were taken to an afternoon worship service at an established church service, and then they were imprisoned, and a great miscarriage of justice followed which ended in the brutal beating of Holmes.  Witter was not arrested, no doubt because of his advanced age.
Dr. Greg J. Dixon, from: This Day in Baptist History Vol. I: Cummins Thompson /, pp. 82.

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212 – July 31 – This Day in Baptist History Past


Failing to baptize infants was worthy of death


Dr. John Clarke, Obadiah Holmes, and a Baptist laymen, John Crandall, had walked eighty miles to a blind friend’s home in Lynn, Massachusetts for worship services. Little did they know that they were being closely watched by the authorities. In the midst of their worship in the Witter home, a marshal and his deputies burst in and arrested them, took them to dinner, and then took them to a Puritan meeting that was obviously designed to show them the error of their ways. The three men entered, bowed to the assembly, sat sown, and refused to remove their hats as a demonstration against the treatment that they were receiving. They attempted to defend themselves but were silenced, and then were confined to the Boston jail, being charged with being, “certain erroneous persons, being strangers,” though their offense was understood to be holding a religious service without a license. They were also indicted for holding a private meeting, serving communion to an excommunicated person, rebaptizing converts, etc. They were tried on July 31, 1651. John Cotton, the Puritan preacher acted as the prosecutor and stated the case against the three heretics. He shouted that they denied the power of infant baptism, and thus they were soul murderers. With great fervor he said that they deserved capital punishment just as any other type of murder. The men declared that they conducted a private service not a public service, and claimed under the ancient English maxim that a man’s house, however humble, is his castle. Judge Endicott agreed with John Cotton that these three men should be put to death. Clarke wrote a defense and was fined and released after someone paid his fine, Crandall was released. Holmes was fined and refused to pay the fine and was whipped until he nearly died, but recovered to become a great pastor.   


Dr. Greg J. Dixon: adapted From: This Day in Baptist History Vol. I: Cummins/Thompson, pp. 313-14.




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