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This Sunday in Baptist History

July 24

On this day in 1567, when his mother, Mary, was forced to abdicate her throne, James Stewart became the King of Scotland. He was thirteen months old. Mary Queen of Scots was a Roman Catholic, but James was raised in the Scottish Protestant Kirk. When the Queen of England, Elizabeth, died James became the king of England as well as Scotland. This James is the man who authorized the translation of the Bible, which for centuries was “the” Bible of the Anglophone world. Despite that blessing, don’t think for a moment that James was a friend of the Baptists.

In 1614 Thomas Helwys, a Baptist, wrote the following letter to King James. It is currently housed in the Oxford University Library.

“Heare o King, and dispise not ye counsell of ye poore, and let their complaints come before thee.

The King is a mortall man, and not God therefore hath no power over ye immortall soules of his subjects, to make lawes and ordinances for them, and to set spiritual Lords over them.

If the King have authority to make spirituall Lords and lawes, then he is an importall God, and not a mortall man.

O King, be not seduced to sin so against God, whome thou oughtest to obey, not against thy poore subjects who ought and will obey thee in all things with body life and goods, or else let their lives be take from ye earth.”

God Save ye King.

Tho,. Helwys.

Spillefeild neare London.”

This letter hints at a couple of Baptist principles – No king has authority over the soul of his people. Citizens have responsibilities to their king, but there should be a distinction between spiritual and secular responsibilities.

For this letter, and for preaching the truth, Brother Helwys was jailed in Newgate prison, and while there he died.

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