May 24

King James II of England was a Roman Catholic, but his daughter Mary was not. Mary married a Dutch Protestant named William, and with the providential hand of God upon them, William and Mary became the rulers of England. It was called “the glorious revolution.” The year was 1688. It was the most earth-shaking religious event since Henry VIII broke with Rome 150 years before.
A year later, on this day in 1689, William and Mary saw to it that “The Toleration Act” was passed in Parliament without much difficulty. Even though the previous king was Catholic, this law was primarily directed toward the Church of England. It eliminated compulsory attendance of any church. The State Church, the Protestant Church of England, still had privileges, but she had no power to persecute. Under that legal toleration, not only could the Catholics operate, but so could dissenting churches like the Baptists. It was a boon to the people of God.
Across the Atlantic the immediate effects were felt differently in various colonies. Obviously, this was nearly a hundred years before the Revolutionary War, and in places like New England and Virginia true freedom was still a long way from a reality.
We owe our religious liberty to hundreds of Baptist brethren who taught, argued, testified and even suffered for this right. But those early Baptists owed a debt of gratitude to the English monarchs William and Mary and their “Toleration Act” of May 24, 1689.