Mr. Marshall and Mr. Manuel–
Have you no shame?
*first appeared on Garbage Truck in April, 2001
*Editor’s note: The wildly popular historic narrative The Light and the Glory
is now nearly 30 years old. It (and it’s second volume) continue to be a best
seller among Baptist Christian Schools and Homeschoolers.
an open letter to the authors of The Light and the Glory by James Beller
Dear Mr. Marshall and Mr. Manuel:
I am not of the belief that this letter will trouble you. But if I do not write this I will be troubled with myself. I have developed quite a controversy with you and I am anxious to remove this weight I feel is on my back and place it squarely in Christian love on yours. I do not doubt for one minute you are Christian brothers, but I know from experience and history that being a Christian never exempts someone from being wrong, sometimes even cruel. I hope I will not come across as cruel, but one of my aims is to share the outrage that has come upon me as I studied and restudied the facts of history.
I do not pretend to be a historian in the professional sort of way. I am a pastor and church planter and a lover of books and history. I admire with profound awe what our forefathers of the faith have accomplished. You are a part of my passion. You fueled the beginning stages of my desire to know real American history.
As a new Christian I came across your material and although nearly a quarter of a century has passed since the publishing of your book, The Light and the Glory, its illustrations and thoughts are fresh as spring rain in my mind. It was well written, compelling and enjoyable to read. It was pungent, arresting and at times biting. Who could have imagined the impact your work would have on our generation?
It was not until I began my own journey of discovery in the ocean of history that I began to sink into a certain disillusionment toward your work. I am talking about your treatment of Roger Williams, Issac Backus, Henry Dunster, John Leland and a host of Separate Baptists who were pillars of Americas quest for independence and liberty.
While it is true that historians have rewritten history in the 20th century and much of our Christian heritage has been ignored, what gives you the right to assassinate a man of the caliber of Roger Williams and then ignore colonial Americas greatest Christian patriots? I shall ask about your malignity towards Mr. Williams in a moment, but here are some pertinent questions:
When you wrote of the Covenant Way did you realize that most Americans would not comprehend that you were speaking of a kind of church-state relationship that had its zenith in Massachusetts in the mid seventeenth century? In your second volume of Light and Glory you made no correction and were clearly identifiable as Covenant Theocrats. Am I correct in saying that Covenant Theology is simply the Reformed Theological Wayentangled in the national governments of nations where it reigns supreme? In New England, the record shows that Reformed Theological Covenanters tried to control the population by subjecting them to a system which had infant baptism as its door of entrance.
The blood of Obadiah Holmes flowed from Boston Square in September of 1651. The site of his suffering was the same as the site of the Boston Massacre which took place over one hundred years later. Yet the blood shed at both events was for the same causeliberty.
Holmes was beaten with a whip on Boston commons for the crime of holding an unauthorized church service.1 He was an antipedobaptist who defied the standing order of the New Israel by visiting and preaching in the home of a Baptist. Holmes blood along with the blood and suffering of a large number of those with dangerous opinions was later brought to the attention of patriots in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Virginia. Their testimony would be a deciding factor in the establishment of true liberty in the emerging American republic. Why is there no treatment given the brave Obadiah Holmes in The Light and the Glory?
The ancient Issac Backus of Middleborough, Massachusetts was the first antipedobaptist historian in American history. His experience with the laws of Massachusetts (set down by the People of the Covenant Way) put his own mother in prison for her refusal to support the standing order church (Congregational) with tithes levied by taxation. Her resistance was no different than the patriot motto of no taxation without representation. Forced taxation without representation was tyranny on the part of England and forced tithing by the standing order was tyranny on the part of the puritans. The record shows that hundreds of Baptist people lost their homes, property, and blood because of their conscientious resistance to the laws of the Covenanted Peoples of New England.2
History reveres the memory of Issac Backus. Backus faced jail for refusing to support the state Congregational church of Massachusetts and was called before the Continental Congress to testify on behalf of religious liberty. His testimony in December of 1774 was monumental. The renowned John Hancock answered the petition in this fashion:
Resolved, That the establishment of civil and religious liberty to each denomination in the province, is the sincere wish of this Congress.3
How is it that in your 360 page book on our American Christian Heritage there is no mention of Backus?
Time does not permit similar queries about Elijah Craig, Samuel Harriss, Jack Waller, James Ireland, John Weatherford and Abraham Marshall. All these and hundreds more were jailed in the state of Virginia for unlicensed preaching before the sacrifice and tears of the Revolution. It is a known fact that the great Separatist Baptist revival (led by the church planters trained by Shubal Stearns) resulted in a large number of Baptist converts and churches in the state of Virginia thereby leading the Old Dominion State to embrace the patriot movement.
John Leland was the fabulous pastor and patriot from New England whom God providentially transplanted to Virginia at the time of the ratification of the United State Constitution. It is a well-established fact of history that because of the great revival in Virginia the Baptists had become quite numerous. The policy of the Episcopal church of Virginia was to jail Baptist preachers and James Madison had feared the new constitution would not be approved in Virginia due to the lack of protection of her preachers. Madison met with John Leland and promised the preacher a written Bill of Rights attached to the constitution that would guarantee full religious liberty and the distinct prohibition of the establishment of a state church. This was tantamount in the emergence of the Christian nation we became.4
Even so, this man Leland, whom history insists, brokered the Bill of Rights for all Americans is a non-entry in Light and Glory. How is it that you found space in your 360 page book to give us the run down on the great work of Jesuit missionariesyet Leland is not mentioned in your narrative? Not only that but, I would really be interested in an explanation of the enigma of your pro-Romish leanings which betray the fact that you are Presbyterians with a Reformed theological slant on things.
Most importantly consider this:
I speak of your treatment of Roger Williams and your opinion of him. In turning to page 191 of The Light and the Glory I find this amazing statement:
the most amazing part of this ongoing miracle in Gods new Israel was that it involved so many individuals, each of whom had his own free-will choice to either be actively committed or remain passively rebellious. (emphasis mine) God was planting a new vineyard, and many chose to be rooted into it as living vines.
No doubt you were banking on weak scholarship and fearful Baptist historians to get away with the totally false statement about free will choice. So now you are called on the carpet for this fabrication. THERE WAS NO SUCH FREE WILL CHOICE BAPTISTS WERE BANISHED AND QUAKERS WERE HANGED. This you were well aware of. But because you think like Augustine, Zwingle and the Inquisition it is much easier to cover or ignore the truth.
Marshall and Manuel wrote:
Williams is tragic, self-righteous, impossible, arrogant, judgmental From the moment [Williams] stepped off the boat, he brought anguish to the hearts of all who came to know him. Because to know him was to like him, no matter how impossible were the tenets he insisted upon. And they were impossible. Williams insistence upon absolute purity in the Church, beyond all normal extremes, grew out of his own personal obsession with having to be rightin doctrine, in conduct, in church associationsin short, in every area of life. This need to be right colored everything he did or thought; indeed, it drove him into one untenable position after another.5
I suppose that you wanted Mr. Williams to forfeit scripture in order to fit in as he was governed by 1 Thessalonians 5:21: Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Of course we are to assume you believe the Congregationalists of New England were not concerned with being right. Right?
You continued your assault on Williams thus:
For the alternativefacing up to ones self-righteousness and repenting of it on a continuing basiswas more than he could bring himself to accept.6
In this statement you show your Augustinian arrogance by chastising Mr. Williams the same way Augustine chastised the Donatists. Augustine condemned (to death) the Donatists for being self righteous and for REBAPTIZING former Catholics.
Historians such as Issac Backus, James Ernst, and Emily Easton paint a different picture of Williams. He was eloquent, fair, brave and selfless. He frankly forgave a greedy brother who cheated him out of his inheritance.7 He willingly uprooted his family and moved to Rhode Island where his efforts with the Native Americans saved hundreds of English lives.8 His plans were to evangelize the Native Americans. He was the first to learn their language and the first to demand fairness in dealing with their land.
All equitable historians agree that Williams found fault with 1.) the law of Patents and 2.) the punishment of First Table violations by human government. We understand the law of Patents being the Devine right of Kings to confiscate foreign lands from natives. This was Williams first argument with John Cotton. We further understand that Williams believed the First Table, (that is, the first four commandments, or mans responsibility to God) should not be enforced by the government. His preaching on these subjects lead to his banishment to Rhode Island.9
The slimiest indictment of Mr. Williams by you has to do with your take on his refusal to assume preaching duties at the Boston Church. You correctly say that John Winthrop invited him. But you imply that his separatist ways were a shock and surprise to Winthrop. You side with the standing order in repeating the new and dangerous or strange opinions mantras of William Bradford. The truth is that his opinions were neither new, dangerous nor strange.
As you should know, dissenters in Old England at the turn of the 17th century ranged in belief from the puritans (who wanted to reform the Anglican Church) to the separatists and independents (who wanted to break completely with the Anglican Church) to the Anabaptists who reject infant baptism and wanted baptism for believers only. Rivers of tracts and pamphlets flooded Old England long before the plans for the Massachusetts Bay Colony were formulated at John Cottons St. Batolph Church, Old Boston in Lincolnshire, England.10 In fact, Cottons church was a think tank of opinion for puritan and separatist alike before 1630. The astonishing truth is that Williams was friends with his future enemies while they were formulating their opinions in Old England. Mr. Williams never hid his opinions. They were anything but new, and they were anything but strange. The historian Ernst relates the record of Williams, John Cotton and Thomas Hookers discussions, which took place on the way to Cotton’s St. Batolphs Church in Old England:
The famous meeting brought together a goodly company of godly men at Sempringham. Even the Bishop of Lincoln aided his brethren to escape the persecutions of Lauds party. They discussed the plans for settling, financing, and governing the projected colony, and talked a great deal of Indian conversion. Here Mr. Williams met his future New England persecutorsall seeking an escape for tender consciences.
During their ride to and from Sempringham, the three men of God carried on a lively discussion about theology and church reform, making the trip a memorable one. Possibly, Master Cotton may call to mind that the discusser,, recounts Mr. Williams, riding with himself and one other person of precious memory, Master Hooker, to and from Sempringham, presented his arguments from Scripture why he durst not join with them in their use of Common Prayer.11
I ask now, are we to believe the standing order was surprised at Roger Williams and his love for liberty and the freedom of dissent? Can we agree that the standing order was forming a new tyranny?
I take exception to your definition of the liberty of conscious Mr. Marshall and Mr. Manuel. On page 193194 of The Light and the Glory you define the liberty of conscious by saying:
Liberty of conscious means Nobody is going to tell me what I should do or believe. Taken out of balance and pursued to its extremes (which is where Williams, ever the purist, invariably pursed everything), it becomes a license to disregard all authority with which we do not happen to agree at the time.
Like, for instance, the Government of England at the time of the War of Independence? I mean really, is that your true opinion of the liberty of conscious?
I for one do not have sorrow for Mr. Williams as you have asked your naïve readers on page 199. I have nothing but admiration and respect for him.
In William Cathcarts definitive The Baptists and the American Revolution the antipedobaptists of the formulative years of the American republic were given their proper place. Several patriots are quoted giving just opinions of an entire faction of the American revolutionary movement that you completely ignore.
John Adams, though an enemy to the Baptists wrote:
The missionaries of the London Society for the Propagation of the Faith in Foreign Parts (Baptist missionary organization) had brought her (the state of Delaware) to the platform of patriotism.12
Jefferson was well known for his affection for the Baptist churches, in an address to the General Meeting of the Baptist of Virginia, meeting at Chesterfield, Va., November 21st, 1808 said:
In reviewing the history of the times through which we have passed, no portion of it gives greater satisfaction than that which presents the efforts of the friends of religious freedom and the success with which they were crowned. And we have experienced the quiet as well as the comfort which results from leaving one to profess freely and openly those principles of religion which are the inductions of his own reason.13
President Washingtons sentiments about the Baptists:
I recollect, with satisfaction, that the religious society, [the Baptist church] of which you are a member, has been, throughout America, uniformly and almost unanimously the firm friends of civil liberty, and the persevering promoters of our glorious Revolution.14
If the father of our country held these dangerous people in such high esteem why are they dung in your eyes?
Submitted passionately and respectfully,
Pastor James Beller
1Alvah Hovey, D.D., The Life and Times of Issac Backus (1858, reprint ed., Harrisonville: Gano Books, 1991), p.162.
2William Cathcart, D.D., The Baptists and the American Revolution (Philadelphia: S.A. George and Company, 1876), pp. 10-18.
3Hovey, The Life and Times of Issac Backus p. 222-223.
4E. Wayne Thompson and David L. Cummins, This Day in Baptist History (Greenville: Bob Jones University Press, 1993), p 66.
5Peter Marshall and David Manuel, The Light and the Glory (Tarrytown: Fleming H. Revell, 1977), p. 193.
7James Ernst, Roger Williams (New York: MacMillan Co., 1932), p. 191-192.
8 Issac Backus, A Church History of New England (1804, reprint ed., Harvard: Harvard Library, 1935), p. 34-35.
9Ibid., p. 31.
10 See: Tracts on the Liberty of Conscience (London: The Hanserd Knollys Society, 1846)
11 James Ernst, Roger Williams (New York: MacMillan Co., 1932), p. 55. citing Roger Williams, the Bloody Tenant Yet More Bloody, N.C.P., Vol. IV, p 65.
12 Charles Francis Adams, Life and Works of John Adams, vol. X., p. 812.
13 Cathcart, The Baptists and the American Revolution pp. 66-67.
14 Ibid., p. 69.