Roger Williams (c. 21 December 1603 – between 27 January and 15 March 1683) was a Puritan minister, theologian, and author who founded Providence Plantations, which became the Colony of Rhode Island. He was a staunch advocate for religious freedom, separation of church and state, and fair dealings with American Indians, and he was one of the first abolitionists.
Williams was expelled by the Puritan leaders from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for spreading “new and dangerous ideas”, and he established the Providence Plantations in 1636 as a refuge offering what he called “liberty of conscience”. In 1638, he founded the First Baptist Church in America, also known as the First Baptist Church of Providence. He studied the Indian languages and wrote the first book on the Narragansett language, and he organized the first attempt to prohibit slavery in any of the American colonies.
Williams’s career as an author began with A Key into the Language of America (London, 1643), written during his first voyage to England. His next publication was Mr. Cotton’s Letter lately Printed, Examined and Answered (London, 1644; reprinted in Publications of the Narragansett Club, vol. ii, along with John Cotton’s letter which it answered). His most famous work is The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience (published in 1644), considered by some to be one of the best defenses of liberty of conscience.
THE BLOODY TENENT OF PERSECUTION
him that what he highly esteems as a tenent washed white in the Lamb’s blood, is yet more black and abominable, in the most pure and jealous eye of God.
PEACE. The blackamoor’s darkness differs not in the dark from the fairest white.
TRUTH. Christ Jesus, the Sun of Righteousness, hath broke forth, and daily will, to a brighter and brighter discovery of this deformed Ethiopian. And for myself I must proclaim, before the most holy God, angels, and men, that (whatever other white and heavenly tenents Mr. Cotton holds) yet this is a foul, a black, and a bloody tenent.
A tenent of high blasphemy against the God of Peace, the God of Order, who hath of one blood made all mankind, to dwell upon the face of the earth, now all confounded and destroyed in their civil beings and subsistences by mutual flames of war from their several respective religions and consciences.
A tenent warring against the Prince of Peace, Christ Jesus, denying his appearance and coming in the flesh, to put an end to and abolish the shadows of , that ceremonial and typical land of Canaan.
A tenent fighting against the sweet end of his coming, which was not to destroy men’s lives, for their religions, but to save them by the meek and peaceable invitations and persuasions of his peaceable wisdom’s maidens.
A tenent foully charging his wisdom, faithfulness, and love, in so poorly providing such magistrates and civil powers all the world over, as might effect so great a charge pretended to be committed to them.
A tenent lamentably guilty of his most precious blood, shed in the blood of so many hundred thousands of his poor servants by the civil powers of the world, pretending to suppress blasphemies, heresies, idolatries, superstition, etc.
A tenent fighting with the spirit of love, holiness, and meekness, by kindling fiery spirits of false zeal and fury, when yet such spirits know not of what spirit they are.
A tenent fighting with those mighty angels who stand up for the peace of the saints, against Persia, Grecia, etc., and so consequently, all other nations, who fighting for their several religions, and against the truth, leave no room for such as fear and love the Lord on the earth.
A tenent, against which the blessed souls under the altar cry loud for vengeance, this tenent having cut their throats, torn out their hearts, and poured forth their blood in all ages, as the only heretics and blasphemers in the world.
A tenent loathsome and ugly (in the eyes of the God of heaven, and serious sons of men) I say, loathsome with the palpable filths of gross dissimulation and hypocrisy. Thousands of peoples and whole nations compelled by this tenent to put on the foul vizard of religious hypocrisy, for fear of laws, losses, and punishments, and for the keeping and hoping for of favor, liberty, worldly commodity, etc.
A tenent wofully guilty of hardening all false and deluded consciences (of whatsoever sect, faction, heresy, or idolatry, though never so horrid and blasphemous) by cruelties and violences practised against them; all false teachers and their followers (ordinarily) contracting a brawny and steely hardness from their sufferings for their consciences.
A tenent that shuts and bars out the gracious prophecies and promises and discoveries of the most glorious Sun of Righteousness, Christ Jesus, that burns up the holy Scriptures, and forbids them
(upon the point) to be read in English, or that any trial or search, or (truly) free disquisition be made by them; when the most able, diligent, and conscionable readers must pluck forth their own eyes, and be forced to read by the (whichsoever predominant) clergy’s spectacles.
A tenent that seals up the spiritual graves of all men, Jews and Gentiles (and consequently stands guilty of the damnation of all men), since no preachers, nor trumpets of Christ himself may call them out, but such as the several and respective nations of the world themselves allow of.
A tenent that fights against the common principles of all civility, and the very civil being and combinations of men in nations, cities, etc., by commixing (explicitly or implicitly) a spiritual and civil state together, and so confounding and overthrowing the purity and strength of both.
A tenent that stunts the growth and flourishing of the most likely and hopefulest commonweals and countries, while consciences, the best, and the best deserving subjects are forced to fly (by enforced or voluntary banishment) from their native countries; the lamentable proof whereof England hath felt in the flight of so many worthy English into the Low Countries and New-England, and from New-England into old again and other foreign parts.
A tenent whose gross partiality denies the principles of common justice, while men weigh out to the consciences of all others that which they judge not fit nor right to be weighed out to their own. Since the persecutor’s rule is, to take and persecute all consciences, only himself must not be touched.
A tenent that is but Machiavelism, and makes a religion but a cloak or stalking horse to policy and private ends of Jeroboam’s crown and the priest’s benefice, etc.
A tenent that corrupts and spoils the very civil honesty and natural conscience of a nation.
In the sad consideration of all which (dear Peace) let heaven and earth judge of the washing and color of this tenent. For thee, sweet heavenly guest, go lodge thee in the breasts of the peaceable and humble witnesses of Jesus, that love the truth in peace! Hide thee from the world’s tumults and combustions in the breasts of thy truly noble children, who profess and endeavor to break the irony and insupportable yokes upon the souls and consciences of any of the sons of men.
PEACE. Methinks (dear Truth) if any of the least of these deep charges be found against this tenent, you do not wrong it when you style it bloody. But sincein the woful proof of all ages past, since Nimrod (the hunter or persecutor before the Lord) these and more are lamentably evident and undeniable. It gives me wonder that so many and so excellent eyes of God’s servants should not espy so foul a monster, especially considering the universal opposition this tenent makes against God’s glory, and the good of all mankind.
TRUTH. There hath been many foul opinions, with which the old serpent hath infected and bewitched the sons of men (touching God, Christ, the Spirit, the Church, against holiness, against peace, against civil obedience, against chastity), insomuch that even sodomy itself hath been a tenent maintained in print by some of the very pillars of the Church of Rome. But this tenent is so universally opposite to God and man, so pernicious and destructive to both (as hath been declared) that like the powder-plot, it threatens to blow up all religion, all civility, all humanity, yea, the very being of the world, and the nations thereof at once.
PEACE. He that is the father of lies, and a murderer from the beginning, he knows this well, and this ugly blackamoor needs a mask or vizard.
TRUTH. Yea the bloodiness and inhumanity of it is such, that not only Mr. Cotton’s more tender and holy breast, but even the most bloody Bonners and Gardiners have been forced to arm themselves with the fair shows and glorious pretences of the glory of God, and zeal for that glory, the love of his truth, the gospel of Christ Jesus, love and pity to men’s souls, the peace of the Church, uniformity, order, the peace of the commonweal, the wisdom of the state, the King’s, Queen’s, and Parliament’s proceedings,
the odiousness of sects, heresies, blasphemies, novelties, seducers, and their infections, the obstinacy of heretics, after all means, disputations, examinations, synods, yea, and after conviction in the poor heretic’s own conscience. Add to these the flattering sound of those glossing titles, the godly magistrate, the Christian magistrate, the nursing fathers and mothers of the Church, Christian kings and queens. But all other kings and magistrates (even all the nations of the world over, as Mr. Cotton
pleads) must suspend and hold their hands, and not meddle in matters of religion until they be informed, etc.
PEACE. The dreadful righteous hand of God, the eternal and avenging God, is pulling off these masks and vizards, that thousands and the world may see this bloody tenent’s beauty.
TRUTH. But see (my heavenly sister and true stranger in this sealike, restless, raging world), see here what fires and swords are come to part us! Well; our meetings in the heavens shall not thus be interrupted, our kisses thus distracted, and our eyes and cheeks thus wet, unwiped. For me, though censured, threatened, persecuted, I must profess, while heaven and earth lasts, that no one tenent that either London, England, or the world doth harbor, is so heretical, blasphemous, seditious, and dangerous to the corporal, to the spiritual, to the present, to the eternal good of all men, as the bloody tenent (however washed and whited) I say, as is the bloody tenent of persecution for cause of conscience.
A WARNING TO ENDICOTT
the Gardiners and Bonners both former and later used to all that bowed not to the state golden image of what conscience soever they were. And indeed, sir, if the Most High be pleased to awaken you to render unto his holy majesty his due praises, in your truly broken- hearted confessions and supplications, you will then proclaim toall the world, that what profession soever you made of the Lamb, yet expressions could not proceed from the dragon’s mouth.
Oh remember, and the most holy Lord bring it to your remembrance, that you have now a great price in your hand, to bringLetter great glory to his holy name, great rejoicing to so gracious a Redeemer (in whom you profess is all your healing and salvation), great rejoicing to the these holy Spirit of all true consolation, whom yet so long you who have grieved and sadded, great rejoicing to those blessed spirits (attending upon the Lamb, and all his, and terrible to his persecutors), great rejoicing and instruction to all that love the true Lord Jesus (notwithstanding their wanderings among so many false Christs), mourning and lamenting after him in all parts of the world where his name is sounded. Your talents are
great, your fall hath been so, ; your eminency is great, the glory of the Most High in mercy or justice toward you will be great also.
Oh remember it is a dangerous combat for the potsherds of the earth to fight with their dreadful Potter. It is a dismal battle for poor naked feet to kick against the pricks; it is a dreadful voice from the King of kings, and Lord of lords, “Endicott, Endicott, why huntest thou me? why imprisonest thou me? why finest, why so bloodily whippest, why wouldest thou (did not I hold thy bloody hands) hang and burn me?” Yea, sir, I beseech you remember that it is a dangerous thing to put this to the may be, to the venture or hazard, to the possibility. Is it possible (may you well say) that since I hunt, I hunt not the life of my Saviour, and the blood of the Lamb of God? I have fought against many several sorts of consciences, is it beyond all possibility and hazard, that I have not fought against God, that I have not persecuted Jesus in
some of them?
Sir, I must be humbly bold to say, that ’tis impossible for any man or men to maintain their Christ by their sword, and to worship a true Christ! to fight against all consciences opposite to theirs, and not to fight against God in some of them, and to hunt after the precious life of the true Lord Jesus Christ. Oh remember whether your principles and consciences must in time and opportunity force you. ‘Tis but worldly policy and compliance with men and times (God’s mercy overruling) that holds your hands from mmurdering of thousands and ten thousands were your power and command as great as once the bloody Roman emperors was.
Oh remember once again (as I began) and I humbly desire to remember with you, that every gray hair now on both our heads is a Boanerges, a son of thunder, and a warning piece to prepare us for the weighing of our last anchors, and to be gone from hence, as if we had never been.