Freedom Written in Blood
May 31st, 1964 @ 10:50 AM
FREEDOM WRITTEN IN BLOOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-31-64 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the 11:00 o’clock morning message entitled Freedom Written in Blood. This will be the fourth and the last address that I have prepared on the inheritance we have received from our Baptist forefathers. There is one other to be delivered, and because it concerns an area of national American life in which Dr. George W. Truett was so vitally interested, I have decided to deliver this last and fifth address on the Sunday closest to the anniversary of his death. Every year on the Sunday nearest the anniversary of the death of the great pastor, I prepare an address on some phase of world and spiritual and denominational life in which he was so vitally interested and with which he was so intimately connected.
So this year, in keeping with the one hundred fiftieth sesquicentennial celebration of the organization of our missionary work on the North American continent, I have decided to speak on that subject of Baptists and the American Constitution, which will be delivered on that Sunday. I think it is about the fifth day of July.
What we are doing is following a text in Isaiah 51:1, where the prophet called his people back to a remembrance of the inheritance from God they had received through their forefathers. And the words of the prophet Isaiah are these:
Look, look unto the rock from whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit from whence ye are digged.
Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you.
And true to that text, we are calling our people back to a remembrance of those tremendous liberties and doctrines and freedoms that have blessed our generations since these men laid down their lives, and are our highest inheritances and most precious today.
Now the last time I spoke in this pulpit, Sunday a week ago, we followed the course of the defense of those great Baptist doctrines espoused by two men in England, one John Bunyan, and the other John Milton. And in America we followed the course of those principles as they were fought for and lived for in the life and statesmanship of Roger Williams. Now today we pick up that thread and follow it concurrently through the life of another tremendously great, effective Baptist leader.
In 1609, there was born in Suffolk County, England a child by the name of John Clarke. He was unusually well educated, receiving a doctorate in medicine from Leiden University in Holland. But he was likewise gifted and learned in theology and in law. In 1637, Dr. John Clarke, this practicing physician and Baptist preacher, immigrated with his young wife to America and landed in the settlement of Boston.
At that time there were about a thousand people in the village, and it was seven years old. Plymouth, by the Pilgrim Fathers, had been settled in 1620 in Plymouth, the little place there by the sea held in the arms of Cape Cod. And right up just a small distance upward, northward, in about 1626 to 1628, there was a settlement that in the Indian language was called Shawmut. Is that the name of those places? I see it all over Boston, Shawmut; it was an Indian name. And in 1630 it was changed to Boston. And seven years later there came to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, this great stalwart doctor and theologian, a magnificent specimen of a man, over six feet tall and wonderfully, powerfully framed. He came to Boston with his wife, and when he landed he was confronted with one of the bitterest of all civil ecclesiastical debates that mind could imagine.
There was a woman by the name of Mrs. Anne Hutchinson; she was the daughter of an Anglican minister. She had married a prosperous, affluent merchant, and they had come to Boston to live. She, reading the Word of God, had become a Baptist and because of her tremendous influence, her queenly presiding over a gracious home, and because of her unusual intellectual endowments, she was reaching throughout the colony with the Word, and truth, and revelation of God.
She was brought to trial. She was convicted by an ecclesiastical civil court, and she was excommunicated from the church, and she was banished from the face of civilized man. I have copied the word of excommunication read to her before the congregation in Boston by the pastor. Standing in his high church pulpit, these are the words that he said, and I quote:
Therefore, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the name of the church, I do not only pronounce you worthy to be cast out, but I do cast you out. And in the name of Christ do I deliver you up to Satan, that you may learn no more to blaspheme, to seduce, and to lie. And I do account you from this time forth to be a heathen and a publican, and so to be held of all the brethren and sisters of this congregation and of all others. Therefore, I command you, in the name of Jesus Christ and of the church, as a leper to withdraw yourself out of the congregation.
With her able and gifted husband, they were driven away. He soon died, and in the fierce howling wilderness of pioneer frontier America, she and her fourteen children were massacred by the savage Indians. It was that into which John Clarke entered when he landed in the city of Boston. I read from his own pen, quoting from John Clarke:
In the year 1637 I left my native land, and in the ninth month of the same, through mercy, I arrived in Boston. I was no sooner on shore but there appeared to me differences among them touching the covenants—
then he described it—
They were not able in that uttermost part of the world to live together, whereupon I moved, as the proffer of Abraham to Lot, to turn aside to the right hand or to the left. The motion was accepted, and I was requested with some others to seek out a place.
And this was the proposition that Dr. John Clarke proposed, and I quote from him: “A state,” anywhere it could be found, and built, and founded, “a state where no constraint could ever be put upon the human conscience, no shackles upon the human spirit, no limit to the freedom of human thought.” In 1638, in keeping with that meeting from which I just quoted from John Clarke, there were twenty-three men who signed what is called the Portsmouth Compact, written by Dr. Clarke. And they sought, in the howling frontier wilderness of America, a place where they could build a state where men could think, and live, and worship according as God might lay it upon their souls.
They turned first to the north, but the winter, in what is now known as New Hampshire, but the winter was so severe and bitter they could not found their state and home there. So they turned southward intending to go to what is now we know as Delaware. But as Dr. John Clarke, with his little band of Baptist people, turned southward, they passed through the settlement of Providence Plantations and met there and visited with Roger Williams. Roger Williams encouraged Dr. Clarke and his people to abide there in his plantation, and to found with him this state of liberty and soul freedom. “For,” said Roger Williams, “this island of Aquidneck,” fifteen miles long, three miles wide in Narragansett Bay—at the head of which Providence had been built by Roger Williams—Roger Williams said, “from Canonicus, the Indian chief, we can buy this island of Aquidneck. You can build your state there.” So Dr. John Clarke was thus persuaded, and from Canonicus, the Indian chief, he bought the island of Aquidneck, and named it the “Isle of Rhodes,” or Rhode Island, after the beautiful isle in the eastern part of the Mediterranean sea. And Dr. John Clarke and the men settled two places on the island. The one toward the north they called Portsmouth, and the one toward the south they called Newport.
Then Roger Williams said, “Why do not we place our settlements in one communion, in one civil state?” It was agreed, and in 1643, Roger Williams received from the commonwealth under Cromwell in England, a charter putting the group together, making one civil free state. In 1640, even before the charter was granted, in Aquidneck, in Rhode Island, under the direction of Dr. John Clarke, the first public school in the history of the world was organized by those Baptist pioneers. At the dissolution of the Cromwellian commonwealth and after twelve years labor, Dr. John Clarke received from King Charles II—who was, the monarchy was reinstated in 1660, and he was crowned king over the British Empire—and from Charles II, Dr. John Clarke was blessed of God in receiving from him a charter for the Baptist community of Rhode Island.
And I copied from that charter all of the south portico of the state capitol building in Rhode Island, one of the most beautiful capitol buildings in America, printed high, chiseled high, incised high, overlooking the city before are these words taken from this charter. I quote, “To hold forth a lively experiment that a most flourishing civil state may stand and best be maintained with full liberty in religious concernments.” And this was the beginning of the first earth parcel, the first ground of land, the first government, the first state, the first constituted civil order in the earth where there was complete and full religious liberty.
Now we’re going to take up the thread in Rhode Island and in those Baptist churches in the life of Dr. John Clarke and his associate pastor. But first I must introduce you to his associate pastor. In 1639 there immigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony a sturdy young Englishman by the name of Obadiah Holmes. He came with his young wife and a three year old boy, and into the family later a little girl was born. And in Salem of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, right northward of Boston, in the town of Salem this Obadiah Holmes built the first glass factory in America. And he had as his partner, in the glass factory in Salem, a young Englishmen, who also had immigrated to the colony, by the name of Lawrence [Southwick].
Now this Lawrence [Southwick] was a Quaker. And because he was a Quaker, he was tried by the civil ecclesiastical courts of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and fined heavily for his faith as a Quaker. The fine was so astronomical that Lawrence [Southwick] could not begin to pay it. So to satisfy the court, they decreed—now this is in America, and this is in Massachusetts Bay Colony, and this is under the tutelage of the church—the court ordered that his two little children, a little boy and a little girl, be sold into slavery to satisfy the mandates of the church and the ecclesiastical court.
The children were sold to a rough sea captain who promised the court to take them across the sea and far away. But when the time came for that rough sea captain to take out of the arms of the father and of the mother those two children, the tears of the children and the lamentations of the godly parents were more than the rough sea captain could bear. He turned around and got on his ship and sailed away leaving the children in the arms of their parents; this in colonial America.
Anytime you think that they came to America for religious liberty, they never thought of it until those Baptist forefathers of ours laid down their lives for it. In order to flee, to escape, to find refuge anywhere, Obadiah Holmes and his friend Lawrence [Southwick] with their families escaped from the Massachusetts Bay Colony and turned southward, seeking refuge, and haven, and life. And they found it in the Baptist state colony of Rhode Island. They were welcomed by Dr. John Clarke, and the families were baptized into the fellowship of the First Baptist Church in Newport, Rhode Island. So devout and so able and gifted was Obadiah Holmes, who had been educated in Oxford, England, that he was associate to Dr. John Clarke in ministering to the First Baptist Church in Newport.
Now in those days in 1651, Dr. Clarke, the medical doctor and the pastor of the church, and Obadiah Holmes, his assistant associate pastor, and John Crandall, another faithful layman, went up to Lynn. Now Lynn, Massachusetts was a settlement between Boston and Salem. The three of them are on a line there. They went to Lynn to visit in the home of an aged Baptist member of the church by the name of William Witter. He was over seventy years of age, and he was blind.
Now the reason he belonged to the Baptist church in Newport was this. No other church was allowed, no other church was allowed by law to be organized in the other colonies. So those few Baptist people and families who lived in other colonies had their membership in one of the Baptist churches in Rhode Island.
It’s the same kind of a thing that happened last Wednesday night here in this church. You received into your fellowship—I being away, presided over by Dr. Fuller—you received his boy and his girl, his daughter and his son-in-law, who are missionaries to the Dominican Republic. You received them into the fellowship of this dear church, and the reason is there is no Baptist church in the Dominican Republic. And the missionaries are going there to evangelize and to preach, and we pray to build a work for God in that somewhat and has been unhappy island. So because there was no church there, you received the missionary couple into the fellowship of our church.
Now that was the thing that obtained in those early colonies. By law you could have no church in those other colonies except the state established church. So those few Baptist families who lived in these other colonies belonged in the fellowship and communion of one of the Baptist churches in Rhode Island. So in the First Baptist Church of Newport, old brother William Witter and his family belonged. So to comfort and to encourage the old man, why, Dr. Clarke, the pastor, and Obadiah Holmes, his associate, and John Crandall made their way to Lynn, Massachusetts Bay Colony to comfort and to encourage the old man in the faith.
They arrived on a Saturday in July, and the next day being Sunday, the Lord’s Day, it was agreed that they would have a service and that Dr. John Clarke would preach. So to the old man William Witter and his family, and to four or five strangers who came to listen to the Word of God, Dr. John Clarke the pastor opened the Book. And while he was preaching the unsearchable riches of the gospel of the Son of God, there were two constables who broke in, and they hauled away to prison in Lynn, John Clarke, Obadiah Holmes, and John Crandall. And after a preview there, they were hauled away and placed in the prison in Boston, Massachusetts. And this is the indictment against them, read before the court in Boston, Massachusetts. I quote:
For being taken by a constable at a private meeting in Lynn upon the Lord’s Day, and for such things as shall be alleged against them concerning their seducing and drawing aside others after their erroneous judgments and practices, and for suspicion, and for suspicion of having their hands in the rebaptizing of one or more among us…
You see, they by law, and by commandment, and by mandate had all of the babies sprinkled, and if anyone was baptized, they referred to them as Anabaptizing, Anabaptists. So they felt that these men had rebaptized, which to us, of course, is no such thing. You’re not baptized until you are buried with the Lord in the likeness of His death, raised with the Lord in the likeness of His resurrection [Romans 6:3-5], upon a confession of your faith in the Lord Jesus [ Acts 8:36-37], as it says here in the Holy Word of God. Now that was the indictment read against these men. And in the course of the trial before the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Dr. John Clarke writes and I quote a part: “None were able to turn to the law of God or of man by which we were condemned. At length, the governor stepped up and told us we had denied infant baptism and deserved death.” This is America, “We had denied infant baptism and deserved death, and said he would not have such trash brought into his jurisdiction. ‘Moreover,’ he said, ‘you go up and down and secretly insinuate into those who are weak, but you cannot maintain your doctrine before our ministers. You may try and dispute with them.’”
And upon that suggestion, Dr. John Clarke seized it and said, “Wonderful, fine. Bring the entire ministry of the state church of Boston and let me confront them on the basis of the Word of God.” So the court arranged it. The court arranged it, and there wasn’t a minister in Boston, not a minister of the state church in Boston, not one, that would dare come to the court to confront God’s preacher, Dr. John Clarke. And the confrontation never came to pass. But the court sentenced them to pay a heavy, heavy fine, which they couldn’t pay, or to be publicly whipped.
So the day came for the public laceration and flagellation of Dr. John Clarke. And when they stripped him and tied him to the post, he was so magnificent a man, he was so scholarly and godly in his speech and demeanor, in his looks and countenance and attitude, that a bystander in the throng looking said he could not look upon the flagellation, the whipping of a gentleman, and a scholar, and a reverend divine. So he went to the court and paid the fine, a heavy fine, and the court dismissed Dr. John Clarke against his will. They kept Obadiah Holmes in prison. He received the greatest sentence. They kept Obadiah Holmes in prison until September, and in September they brought him before the thousands that had gathered in Boston and stripped him, and in front of the state house, cruelly beat him.
Now, I take it up from Obadiah Holmes as he writes of that cruel and terrible ordeal. First, there were friends who came to give him stimulants to sustain the terrible ordeal, but he refused it. And he wrote thus, and I quote from Obadiah Holmes:
I betook myself to my God that I might communicate with Him, to commit myself to Him, and beg strength from Him. I was caused to pray earnestly unto the Lord that He would be pleased to give me a spirit of courage and boldness, a tongue to speak for Him, and strength of body to suffer for His sake, and not to shrink or yield to the strokes or shed tears, lest the adversaries of the truth should thereupon blaspheme and be hardened, and the weak and feeble hearted discouraged. And for this I besought the Lord earnestly. At length God satisfied my spirit to give up, as my soul, my body to Him, and quietly leave the whole disposing of the matter to God. And when I heard the voice of the prison keeper come for me, even cheerfulness did come upon me, and taking my Bible in my hand, I went along with him to the place of execution.
He asked for the privilege to speak to the great throng gathered round, and he was denied it. “So as the man began to lay the strokes upon my back, I said to the people, ‘Though my flesh should fail,’” he was afraid he could not stand up under the awful ordeal, so he says:
‘Though my flesh should fail, and my spirit should fail, yet my God will not fail.’ So it pleased the Lord to come in and so fill my heart and tongue as a vessel full, and with an audible voice I broke forth praying unto the Lord not to lay the sin to their charge. And telling the people that now I found God did not fail me, and that therefore now I should trust Him forever who failed me not, for in truth as the strokes fell upon me, I had such a spiritual manifestation of God’s presence as the like thereof, I had never felt before, nor can with fleshly tongue express—
Never was so near to God in my life, never filled with exaltation in my life as I was being beat like a criminal on the square in front of the state house in Boston. And the outward pain was so removed from me that indeed I was not able to declare it to you. It was so easy to me that I could well bear it yea, and in a manner felt it not although it was as grievous as the spectator said, and the man striking with all his strength. When he had loosed me from my post, having joyfulness in my heart, and cheerfulness in my countenance as the spectators observed, I told the magistrates—
and he quotes a martyr who laid down his life—
You have struck me as with roses, yet I pray God it be not laid to your charge.
Even two men who came up and shook his hand, being moved, being moved by the great deportment of this noble, Baptist associate pastor, the men who sympathized with him, the two men who shook hands with him were fined or to be whipped publicly just for that gesture of sympathy. Now Obadiah Holmes closes:
Now does it please the Father of mercies to dispose of the matter that my bonds and imprisonments have been no hindrance to the gospel. For before my return—
before he went back to Newport—
some submitted to the Lord and were baptized and divers were put upon the way of inquiry.
And among those that he refers to who were present there that cruel day and watched that awesome scourging, among them was the president of Harvard College. He had been president of the school for twelve years, the oldest school in America, on the North American continent, in the United States. Henry Dunster, in the throng of people who in Boston that day watched the scourging of this Baptist man, Obadiah Holmes; among those that watched was Henry Dunster.
And as he saw the faith of that holy man and as he watched his deportment in that hour of cruel blood and trial, Henry Dunster went back to his library and picked up his Bible again and began to search through the Word of God. And the first president of Harvard College stood up and publicly announced, “I have become a Baptist. I believe in the Word exactly as it is written. And on a confession of faith, I want to be baptized, walking with our Lord through the waters of the Jordan.”
There fell upon him that same implacable, terrible persecution. He was stripped of his authority and his place in Harvard College. In the midst of one of the bitter winters, that bitter winter he was ejected from the house he had built for the president with his own hands. “Let him starve. Let him freeze. Let him die. He is a Baptist.” Not long afterward a little baby was born in the house, in the home. A little child they named Mary, and because Henry Dunster refused to have the child sprinkled, what they called “baptized,” he was twice cruelly dragged to the ecclesiastical civil courts and died of a broken heart. When you come to church, when you see the door opened, when you see a baptistery, when you see your pastor bury these who on a confession of faith are raised to walk in a new life with Jesus [Romans 6:3-5], “Look, look unto the rock from whence ye are hewn. Look unto the hole of the pit from whence ye are digged” [Isaiah 51:1]. It was bought at a great sacrifice.
I close. In a book that I read in Boston—never seen it any where but in a private library in Boston—the month one time I spent up there, I found a book called The Hero of Aquidneck. We’d say the “hero of Rhode Island.” And in the closing of the book, the author, Wilbur Nelson, had composed a hymn to Dr. John Clarke, and the first two stanzas are this:
Thanks be great God to Thee
For the blessed memory of brave and good
Who worked, and fought, and prayed,
A firm foundation laid,
By earth’s kings, undismayed,
For freedom stood.
And so our country’s praise to Thee,
John Clarke we raise to, hither came.
You followed through the dark,
Then but a flickering spark,
Now grown a nation’s mark
There freedom’s flame.
And in the address that I am preparing to be delivered on the anniversary of the death of Dr. Truett, Baptists and the Constitution of the United States, in that address we shall follow the seed of soul liberty, planted by Roger Williams and Dr. John Clarke. We shall see it under the guiding hands of first, James Madison, and second, Thomas Jefferson, and finally, George Washington. We shall see it flower and fruit to the glory of God and the blessing of the world, as those Baptist pioneers wrought religious liberty into the framework of the American Constitution. “Look,” said the great prophet, “Look unto the rock from whence ye are hewn. Look unto the pit from whence ye are digged” [Isaiah 51:1]. God grant to us, their children, that worthy dedication to follow in their train.
Now while we sing our hymn of appeal, somebody you, somebody you, give his heart to Jesus [Romans10:9-10]. Somebody you to come into the fellowship of this dear church on a confession of faith, by baptism, by letter, by consecration of life, one of you, two of you, a couple of you, a family you, as God shall open the door and lead in the way, on the first note of the first stanza, come. There’s a stairwell at the front on either side, at the back on either side, and there’s time and to spare. The throng of this lower floor, into the aisle, down here to the front, “Preacher, I give you my hand. I give my heart to God, and here I stand, and here I come.” Make it this morning, make it now, while we stand and while we sing.