Inspirational Readings for Your Daily Walk with God:

Christian Mediation

 "These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so." Acts 17:11

"Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." 2 Timothy 2:15

1. Roger Williams: Builder of a Republic

Roger Williams and the ideals and fundamental principles which he advocated in the establishment of a new government in America, have not received the study and attention which they deserve. Amid scorn, persecution, and banishment, he held steadfast to his ideals, and was determined to found, in the American wilderness, a new republic in which church and state would be completely separated and in which each individual would enjoy absolute freedom of conscience in all religious matters. As the Honorable Augusta W. Hinshaw says “Perhaps much more than we have realized, he became the practical founder of the new republic which remains as lively an experiment today as when the young believer in a separate church and state began the policy of Providence.”

A frequent recurrence to fundamental principles is absolutely necessary for the preservation of our precious heritage of liberty. It is a well-known axiom that a truth neglected is a truth lost. Democracy and human liberty cannot be maintained on any other basis than the complete separation of church and state as advocated by Roger Williams. For these paramount reasons the author of this work feels that he can render no greater service to the cause of democracy and human liberty than to restate a few of the great fundamental principles and ideals of civil government and its rightful functions, as advocated by this great apostle of soul-liberty.

In these times, when human rights are treated as pawns on the chessboard by human governments, when every activity of life is regulated, restricted, and regimented, irrespective of constitutional guaranties to the contrary, it becomes doubly incumbent upon the citizenry to familiarize themselves with the principles and the struggle which in the beginning brought about the establishment of democracy and human rights, and resulted in the separation of church and state that each might function separately and independently in its own sphere.
Our only safety lies in knowing and understanding these fundamental principles, and in defending them at any cost.

The inalienable rights of man, whether they be social, political, or economic, must be respected and preserved, no matter what the cost in inconveniences or hardships. And no monetary consideration of mere expediency, no consideration of personal advantage, of utility, race, color, or creed, should ever be permitted to interfere either temporarily or permanently with the supremacy of the soul and the conscience, or with the inviolability of the heritage of inalienable rights, which reside inherently in every human being.

Undoubtedly Sir Edward Coke, and other liberal English statesmen with whom Williams came in contact while serving as secretary and stenographer in the Star Chamber, had a great influence in shaping his ideals of essential justice and democratic principles of civil government; yet it must be recognized that young Williams’ mind was greatly agitated and impressed with the Baptist literature that fell into his hands, which set forth the ideals of a free and independent church in a free and independent state. The great fundamental principles of religious liberty advocated by the Baptists made a lasting impress upon him.

Roger Williams, very early in life, came in contact with the Anabaptists, the Mennonites, and the Separatists, all of whom taught that the civil magistrate should not meddle with religious matters, all of whom were opposed to infant baptism, and all of whom suffered the usual civil penalties meted out to religious minorities. The Baptists especially were aggressive, and produced a large amount of religious literature, which they circulated extensively. Evidently young Williams read the confession of faith of the Baptists, published in 1614, in which they declared: “The magistrate is not by virtue of his office to meddle with religion, or matters of conscience, to force or compel men to this or that form of religion, or doctrine; but to leave Christian religion free, to every man’s con-science, and to handle only civil transgressions.”- McGlothlin, “Baptist Confession of Faith,” p. 82.

He evidently read a textbook in his day written in 1614, by Leonard Busher, “A Citizen of London,” which was presented to King James and the high court of Parliament then sitting, a work entitled, “Religion’s Peace, or A Plea for Liberty of Conscience.”

“For all good shepherds will divide and separate, and not force, slay, and persecute,” Busher declared. “Kings and magistrates are to rule temporal affairs by the swords of their temporal kingdoms, and bishops and ministers are to rule spiritual affair’s by the word and Spirit of God, the sword of Christ’s spiritual kingdom, and not to inter-meddle one with another’s authority, office, and function. And it is a great shame for the bishops and ministers not to be able to rule in their church without the assistance of the king and magistrate; yea, it is a great sign they are none of Christ’s bishops and ministers. If they were, they would not be afraid nor ashamed of their faith; nor yet would they persuade princes and people to persecute, and force one another to believe them; but would use only the assistance of God’s word and Spirit, and therewith suffer their faith and doctrine to be examined, proved, and disputed, both by word and writing.”–”Tracts on Liberty of Conscience,” p. 23.

Another Baptist, John Murton, in 1615, wrote a treatise entitled, “Persecution for Religion Judged and Condemned,” and presented it to the king of England, in which many statements like this occur: “No man ought to be persecuted for his religion, be it true or false, so they testify their faithful allegiance to the king.” “What authority can any mortal man require more, than of body, goods, life, and all that appertaineth to the outward man? The heart God requireth.”–Id., pp. 95, 108.

It is evident that Roger Williams, as a student at the Charter House in London, had access to these Baptist works current in his day, because many of these terse sayings of the Baptists occur in many instances in almost the same identical words. He was undoubtedly greatly influenced by these Baptist writings in his early life while he was still an adherent of the popular state church, and they must have made a profound impression upon him and led him finally to the acceptance of the Baptist faith in America.

The early settlers who fled from the persecutions of Old England had resolved to separate church and state in the New World and grant religious freedom to the persecuted of Europe.

But the powerful majority soon lost sight of the separation issue in America, and began to persecute the dissenting minorities. Roger Williams espoused the cause of religious minorities and broke connections with his own church, when, to his great sorrow, he discovered that the government of New England and his own church had disavowed only the religious persecutions of Old England, and not the principle of religious persecution. This compelled him to lay aside position, prestige, and pre-ferment a second time, in order that he might make possible in America the establishment of religious liberty as conceived by the Author of Christianity. In the uncharted wilderness he became an exile for his opposition to the established church-and-state order, and he became the founder, not only of a new faith, but of a new Republic, in which the government was of the people and dealt with “civil things only.”

The German philosopher and historian Gervinus, in his Introduction to the “History of the Nineteenth Century,” says of the principles of religious liberty and the complete separation of church and state as now accepted by the United States and other democratic countries, and first enunciated by the founder of Rhode Island: “In accordance with these principles, Roger Williams insisted, in Massachusetts, upon allowing entire freedom of conscience, and upon entire separation of the church and the state. But he was obliged to flee, and in 1636 he formed in Rhode Island a small and new society in which perfect freedom in matters of faith was allowed and in which the majority ruled in all civil affairs. Here, in a little State, the fundamental principles of political and ecclesiastical liberty practically prevailed, before they were even taught in any of the schools of philosophy in Europe. At that time people predicted only a short existence for these democratical experiments–universal suffrage, universal eligibility to office, the annual change of rulers, perfect religious freedom–the Miltonian doctrines of schisms. But not only have these ideas and these forms of government maintained themselves here, but precisely from this little State have they extended themselves throughout the United States. They have conquered the aristocratic tendencies in Carolina and New York, the High Church in Virginia, the theocracy in Massachusetts, and the monarchy in all America. They have given laws to a continent, and formidable through their moral influence, they lie at the bottom of all the democratic movements which are now shaking the nations of Europe.”- Quoted by Doctor Fish, in “Price of Soul Liberty,” PP. 141, 142.

Roger Williams’ little republic in Rhode Island, with its four plantations, became the fore-runner of the great American Republic with its forty-eight States. Roger Williams was the first pioneer in America to erect the standard of religious liberty for every person, irrespective of what his religious persuasion might be. He identified himself with that group of Separatists who adopted baptism by immersion upon profession of faith alone, and who consistently, under persecution, advocated the divorcement of religion from the affairs of state. When this separation doctrine was first declared publicly by the Baptists, it was deemed of all doctrines the most pernicious and dangerous. It was to America that the persecuted of Europe fled in the hope that here this doctrine might find root and fertile soil. And it was here that in due time a divine destiny sent, Roger Williams, as the apostle of religious liberty and the founder of Rhode Island, to give effective expression to this fundamental principle in governmental institutions.

“Of all the differences between the Old World and the New,” says Bryce, “this is perhaps the most salient. Half the wars of Europe, half the internal troubles that have vexed European states, from the Monophysite controversies of the Roman Empire of the fifth century down to the Kulturkampf in the German Empire of the nineteenth, have arisen from theological differences or from the rival claims of church and state.”

All the governments of earth were ruled by monarchs who believed they ruled by divine right and that they were absolute in authority in all things both temporal and spiritual. The rulers of the totalitarian governments of today hold to the same beliefs. It is therefore most fitting and profitable that we should study with scrutiny the early struggle in America which was a revolt against the ancient order of things and which ultimately led to the establishment of democracies, the sovereignty of the people, the separation of church and state, and freedom for the individual in religious matters.

The great leaders of the Protestant Reformation did not advocate religious liberty for all men, but for only their own sects. As soon as they became sufficiently powerful and dominant, they formed alliances with the state and recognized the head of the state as empowered to stamp out heretical doctrines. They did not believe that religion could exist or prosper without the aid of the state, or that the stability of government could be maintained without an organic union with the church. The state must have a religion or it would be a godless government. And the church must have the state to correct and punish heretics, or subversive and pernicious religious views and doctrines would threaten the very existence of both church and state. They reasoned, “How could pure religion be maintained if the state did not define it and support it by its authority?” Such reasoning the Protestant Reformers and their successors considered unanswerable logic. In this they did not differ with their Catholic antagonists.

Roger Williams was the only exception among the Protestant Reformers. When he arrived in America with a commission to act as pastor of the Boston church, which he understood had separated itself from the Established Church of Old England, he discovered, to his disappointment, that no such separation had taken place. He also found, to his utter dismay, that the Puritan leaders in Boston held to the old-time doctrine that the chief duty of the magistrate is to defend religion and take care that the word of God is purely preached, and to remove and destroy “all false service of God.”

Roger Williams’ soul revolted against this ancient church-and-state regime’s domination of the consciences of men, and took public issue with the union of civil and religious institutions. What chance is there, said he, for freedom of conscience and equality before the law? Later he espoused the cause of the Anabaptists, who declared that the magistrate is not to meddle with religion or matters of conscience, nor compel men to this or that form of religion, because Christ is the King and Law-giver of the church and conscience.

They did not accept “toleration” of the rights of minority religions on the part of the state church, as a guaranty to religious liberty. “Toleration,” they said, “was a mere grant” of religious rights by a superior force which might at any time be withdrawn. Religious liberty is an inherent right and “inalienable,” which no earthly power has a right to abridge. The Anabaptists demanded–the absolute freedom of religion from civil control, and Roger Williams was determined to go to the root of the matter and secure this absolute freedom in religious matters for the individual, so that the liberties of all men might be made secure in civil government.

The doctrine of absolute freedom in religious matters for the individual was a despised dogma, and was destined to bring persecution upon its advocates. There was no congenial soil in Europe for such a radical doctrine of religious liberty. Those who advocated it were hunted down like wild animals and given no quarter. The persecuted looked to the New World as the only hope of escape, and as the only place where the seeds of liberty might take root and yield a benign fruitage. Roger Williams, the noblest of all the reformers in Europe, who of them all had the clearest view of the proper relationship of church and state, realized that religious freedom was foredoomed in the Old World and that the only hope of launching a successful experiment of a free church in a free state was in the New World, in virgin territory.

In Europe the legal precedents of centuries, hoary tradition, the conventional requirements of organized society, the political and ecclesiastical authorities of what-ever name, as well as the teachings in the schools, were all prejudiced against it and determined to smother the doctrine of a complete separation of church and state. Europe would go no farther than to tolerate religious minorities. This doctrine of “toleration” is still the ruling principle of all European governments, and whenever a government goes totalitarian, the state dominates religion and frequently withdraws all protection from religious minorities. Under a totalitarian government neither civil nor religious rights are secure, and religious liberty is a minus quantity.

Roger Williams looked to the New World as the only hope of the promise of better things. He was willing to sacrifice all honors and preferments that might accrue to his advancement along material lines, in order that he might aid in the establishment of absolute religious freedom in the New World.

The Puritans had already preceded him with the avowed purpose of enjoying religious freedom for themselves, but not of granting the same privileges to others of divergent faith. They were already persecuting dissenters and nonconformists to their peculiar religious customs and doctrines. Religious prejudices and hatreds over church creeds, and the age-long strife over which should be the dominant and ruling religion or church in the state, were being revived with their ancient fervor. America needed a prophet and a champion of the new conception of religious liberty and of church-and-state separatism. God had prepared a man and sent him to the New World to make it ultimately what He in His wisdom and eternal purpose had designed it to become–an asylum for the oppressed of all nations, “the land of the free and the home of the brave!”

Though an exile, like Moses of old, Roger Williams was sent of God to bring deliverance to God’s persecuted and afflicted people in America, which was to them a land of promise as verily as was ancient Palestine to the afflicted children of Israel. Of all the great Protestant reformers, he was the ablest, the best trained, the most enthusiastic, and he held the clearest conceptions of the rights of all men, of religious freedom in religious concerns, and of the true relationship of the church and the state. He was a star of the first magnitude, heralding the coming of a new freedom in a new nation, which was to enlighten the world with a new conception of Christianity and religious freedom.

The new prophet was not well received in New England by the theocratic religionists, and he was soon driven out of Massachusetts by the Puritans for teaching what they denominated as “treasonable and damnable heresy.” To teach that the civil magistrate had no right to punish offenses against God and religion was more than the Puritans could tolerate. To cast him out was God’s way of bringing him into his own heritage which He had re-served for him. In Rhode Island, which was virgin soil in the wilderness, he founded a commonwealth, a miniature republic, “a government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” where, for the first time in history, religious liberty for every man was recognized in civil government as a foundation principle.

Roger Williams was the apostle of religious liberty–of soul liberty in the New World. He had the high honor, in the providence of God, of being the first man to establish in practice the emancipation of the conscience of man from the fetters of politico-ecclesiastical rule. He became the harbinger of religious liberty in its true sense and reality, and pointed the true way for the greatest Republic of a free and democratic people.

We Americans owe a debt of gratitude to Roger Williams–as preacher, prophet, and statesman–which we cannot pay in any better way than to defend and preserve the precious heritage of civil and religious liberty which he has bequeathed to posterity for the benefit of all mankind.
His ideal of the proper relationship of church and state and his political philosophy and principles of government perhaps cannot be summed up in a more concise form than in his own words:

“The civil sword may make a nation of hypocrites, and anti-Christians, but not one Christian.”

“Forcing of conscience is a soul-rape.”

“Persecution for conscience [hath been] the lancet that letteth [the] blood of kings and kingdoms.”

“Man hath no power to make laws to bind conscience.”

“The civil commonwealth and the spiritual commonwealth, the church, not inconsistent, though independent, the one on the other.”

“The civil magistrate owes to false worshipers, (1) permission, (2) protection.”

If this fundamental principle of civil government had always been recognized and followed, there never would have been any religious persecution in this world.

Roger Williams not only believed and taught this principle of government, but he practiced it. After having successfully operated this experiment in Rhode Island for twenty-seven years, he embodied, in 1663, in the memorial charter for the Commonwealth and English Colony of Rhode Island his fundamental tenet, as follows:

“No person within the said colony, at any time hereafter, shall be in any wise molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question, for any differences in opinion, in matters of religion, who do not actually disturb the civil peace of our said colony; but that all and every person and persons may, from time to time, and at all times hereafter, freely and fully have and enjoy his own and their own judgments and consciences, in matters of religious concernments, throughout the tract of land hereafter mentioned, they behaving themselves peaceably and quietly and not using this liberty to licentiousness and profaneness, nor to the civil injury or outward disturbance of others.”

In this charter are set forth the matchless provisions which were incorporated one hundred and twenty-six years later in the Federal Constitution of the United States of America, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” and similar provisions in the respective State constitutions.

Thus Roger Williams became the builder of the ideals of a new nation, which was destined to influence the ideals of many other nations. The equality of all men and of all religions before the law, without special privileges and preferences to any, was the cardinal principle in the government founded by Roger Williams. He not only legislated for his day, but, as he hoped, for “all times hereafter.” As long as men conducted themselves “peaceably” and “civilly,” they were not to be punished on account of their religious beliefs or practices. No one was to suffer any civil disability by reason of his religious favor, provided he respected the equal rights of all others.

Especially was Roger Williams opposed to any financial alliances between the church and the state such as compelled people to be taxed by the state for the aid and support of any sort of religion. He did not believe that any person elected to public office should ever take advantage of his public office through legislation or the administration of his civil duties, to promote the religious interests of religious organizations, nor should he ever at-tempt to settle religious controversies by law, or give preference by judicial decisions to religious opinions, creeds, usages, or customs. His attachment to the equality of all men before the law, placed a self-restraint upon the exercise of his own liberty concerning his own religious creed while exercising the functions of public office.

Roger Williams lived in advance of his age. The New World was not yet ready to adopt his liberal ideals. While he held strong religious convictions he did not allow those convictions to develop in him the, spirit of intolerance toward his opponents. The most difficult lesson which mankind must learn and keep constantly in mind, especially when one is entrusted with power and authority over others, is that religious truth, which we deem most precious and paramount, can never be advanced through coercion upon others. The purest faith can become corrupt by the employment of unholy and unsanctified means and measures to promote it. In fact, the adherents of the purest and most exalted faith are ever tempted to employ the instrument of misguided zeal in the hope of its advancement.

Roger Williams lived in the days when bigotry and intolerance were making war against all who attempted to follow their own religious convictions independently of the established state religion.

Whatever religion happened to be the state religion, whether Protestant or Catholic, the individual who had religious opinions of his own was not allowed to practice them. He was haunted and hunted night and day, and denied all semblance of liberty–both civil and religious. It cost something to be an independent and free Christian in those days of religious intolerance and persecution.

Roger Williams denied the right of the civil government to rule in all things, both temporal and spiritual. All governments in Europe were either totalitarian or authoritarian in form or in practice. No man could call his soul his own. He existed solely for the benefit of the state. All his activities in life were regulated, regimented, and restricted.

Some of the governments in Europe today are reverting to the medieval type, and the results are conditions similar to those of medieval times. Whenever the consciences of men are controlled by the civil authorities, the destruction of liberty- both civil and religious–always follows. Wherever religious dogma is made subservient to the authority of the state, those who dissent from the state religion are regarded as enemies of both religion and the state.

Those who attempt by legislative authority and arbitrary power to dominate the consciences of all men in all things, both temporal and spiritual, do so under the mistaken conception that they are keeping the true religion from being perverted and corrupted; but as a matter of fact, these self-appointed protectors of religion become, through their ill-conceived and misguided zeal and devotion, the real perverters and corrupters of religion.

Roger Williams struggled manfully to put an end to religious intolerance and persecution. By advocating the principle of essential justice and the equality of all men before the law, irrespective of religious creed, nationality, or race, he struck a death blow to the totalitarian and authoritarian forms of government. His seeds of truth and liberty and justice for all men alike, found deep root in American soil, and it was in America that he finally succeeded in establishing his ideal form of government–that after which the American Republic was modeled more than a century later. We must look to Roger Williams, more than to Jefferson or Madison, as the true builder of our American Bill of Rights, because all the provisions of civil and religious liberty as set forth in the matchless Constitution of the United States, were incorporated in principle in the charter of Rhode Island as conceived and framed by Roger Williams.

Both Jefferson and Madison had the writings of this first and greatest of all Americans who formed the ideals and principles of civil government in Rhode Island, and they gave vital breath to those immortal and immutable principles of human rights and liberties in the Declaration of Independence and in the Bill of Rights of the Federal Constitution of the American Republic. The great apostle of soul liberty was the instrument that gave inspiration and guidance to the shaping of the fundamental law of a nation which was destined to become the champion of the rights of all men. It is only as we continue to live in the spirit and devotion of these great ideals of human liberty, of the inalienable rights of all men, and maintain and preserve both our civil and our religious freedom, which has been bequeathed to us as a precious blood-bought heritage, that we can hope for protection, for peace, for prosperity and for human happiness, and that we can be saved from the errors and delusions which have led astray the nations of the past.