Roger Williams (ca. 1603-83), religious leader and one of the
founders of Rhode Island, was the son of a well-to-do London businessman. Educated at Cambridge (A.B., 1627) he became
a clergyman and in 1630 sailed for Massachusetts. He refused a call to the church of Boston because it had not
formally broken with the Church of England, but after two invitations he became
the assistant pastor, later pastor, of the church at Salem. He questioned the right of the colonists to
take the Indians’ land from them merely
on the legal basis of the royal charter and in other ways ran afoul of the
oligarchy then ruling Massachusetts. In
1635 he was found guilty of spreading "new authority of magistrates” and was ordered to be banished from the
colony. He lived briefly with friendly
Indians and then, in 1636, founded Providence in what was to be the colony of
Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.
His religious views led him to become briefly a Baptist, later a Seeker. In 1644, while he was in England getting a
charter for his colony from Parliament, he wrote the work from which this
dialogue is taken. During much of his
later life he was engaged in polemics on political and religious questions. He was an important figure in the
intellectual life of his time, though the direct influence of his writings is
considered by Professor Brockunier to have been slight: "Earliest of the
fathers of American democracy, he owes his enduring fame to his humanity and
breadth of view, his untiring devotion to the cause of democracy and free
opportunity, and his long record of opposition to the privileged and
First, that the blood of so many hundred thousand souls of Protestants
and Papists, spilt in the wars of present and former ages, for their respective
consciences, is not required nor accepted by Jesus Christ the Prince of Peace.
Secondly, pregnant scriptures and arguments are throughout the work
proposed against the doctrine of persecution for cause of conscience.
Thirdly, satisfactory answers are given to scriptures, and objections
produced by Mr. Calvin, Beza, Mr. Cotton, and the ministers of the New English
churches and others former and later, tending to prove the doctrine of
persecution for cause of conscience.
Fourthly, the doctrine of persecution for cause of
conscience is proved guilty of all the blood of the souls crying for vengeance
under the altar.
Fifthly, all civil states with their officers of justice in their
respective constitutions and administrations are proved essentially civil, and
therefore not judges, governors, or defenders of the spiritual or Christian
state and worship.
Sixthly, it is the will and command of God that (since the coming of his
Son the Lord Jesus) a permission of the most paganish, Jewish, Turkish, or
antichristian consciences and worships, be granted to all men in all nations
and countries; and they are only to be fought against with that sword which is
only (in soul matters) able to conquer, to wit, the sword of God's Spirit, the
Word of God.
Seventhly, the state of the Land of Israel, the kings and people thereof
in peace and war, is proved figurative and ceremonial, and no pattern nor
president for any kingdom or civil state in the world to follow.
Eighthly, God requireth not a uniformity of religion to be enacted and enforced
in any civil state; which enforced uniformity (sooner or later) is the greatest
occasion of civil war, ravishing of conscience, persecution of Christ Jesus in
his servants, and of the hypocrisy and destruction of millions of souls.
Ninthly, in holding an enforced uniformity of religion in a civil state,
we must necessarily disclaim our desires and hopes of the Jew's conversion to
Tenthly, an enforced uniformity of religion throughout a nation or civil
state, confounds the civil and religious, denies the principles of Christianity
and civility, and that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.
Eleventhly, the permission of other consciences and worships than a
state professeth only can (according to God) procure a firm and lasting peace
(good assurance being taken according to the wisdom of the civil state for
uniformity of civil obedience from all forts).
Twelfthly, lastly, true civility and Christianity may both flourish in a
state or kingdom, notwithstanding the permission of divers and contrary
consciences, either of Jew or Gentile....
TRUTH. I acknowledge
that to molest any person, Jew or Gentile, for either professing doctrine, or
practicing worship merely religious or spiritual, it is to persecute him, and
such a person (whatever his doctrine or practice be, true or false) suffereth
persecution for conscience.
But withal I desire it may be well
observed that this distinction is not full and complete: for beside this that a
man may be persecuted because he holds or practices what he believes in
conscience to be a truth (as Daniel did, for which he was cast into the lions’ den, Dan.
6), and many thousands of Christians, because they durst not cease to
preach and practice what they believed was by God commanded, as the Apostles
answered (Acts 4 & 5), I say besides this a man may also be persecuted,
because he dares not be constrained to yield obedience to such doctrines and
worships as are by men invented and appointed....
Dear TRUTH, I have two sad complaints:
First, the most sober of the witnesses,
that dare to plead thy cause, how are they charged to be mine enemies,
contentious, turbulent, seditious?
Secondly, shine enemies, though they
speak and rail against thee, though they outrageously pursue, imprison, banish,
kill thy faithful witnesses, yet how is all vermilion'd o'er for justice
against the heretics? Yea, if they kindle coals, and blow the flames of
devouring wars, that leave neither spiritual nor civil state, but burn up
branch and root, yet how do all pretend an holy war? He that kills, and he
that's killed, they both cry out: "It is for God, and for their
'Tis true, nor one nor other seldom
dare to plead the mighty Prince Christ Jesus for their author, yet (both
Protestant and Papist) pretend they have spoke with Moses and the Prophets who
all, say they (before Christ came), allowed such holy persecutions, holy wars
against the enemies of holy church.
TRUTH. Dear PEACE (to ease thy first complaint), 'tis
true, thy dearest sons, most like their mother, peacekeeping, peacemaking sons
of God, have borne and still must bear the blurs of troublers of Israel, and
turners of the world upside down. And
'tis true again, what Solomon once spake: "The beginning of strife is as
when one letteth out water, therefore (saith he) leave off contention before it
be meddled with. This caveat should
keep the banks and sluices firm and strong, that strife, like a breach of
waters, break not in upon the sons of men.”
Yet strife must be distinguished: It
is necessary or unnecessary, godly or Ungodly, Christian or unchristian, etc.
It is unnecessary, unlawful,
dishonorable, ungodly, unchristian, in most cases in the world, for there is a
possibility of keeping sweet peace in most cases, and, if it be possible, it is
the express command of God that peace be kept (Rom. 13).
Again, it is necessary, honorable,
godly, etc., with civil and earthly weapons to defend the innocent and to
rescue the oppressed from the violent paws and jaws of oppressing persecuting
(Psal. 73; Job 29).
It is as necessary, yea more
honorable, godly, and Christian, to fight the fight of faith, with religious
and spiritual artillery, and to contend earnestly for the faith of Jesus, once delivered
to the saints against all opposers, and the gates of earth and hell, men or
devils, yea against Paul himself, or an angel from heaven, if he bring any
other faith or doctrine....
PEACE. I add that a
civil sword (as woeful experience in all ages has proved) is so far from
bringing or helping forward an opposite in religion to repentance that
magistrates sin grievously against the work of God and blood of souls by such
proceedings. Because as (commonly) the
sufferings of false and antichristian teachers harden their followers, who
being blind, by this means are occasioned to tumble into the ditch of hell
after their blind leaders, with more inflamed zeal of lying confidence. So, secondly, violence and a sword of steel
begets such an impression in the sufferers that certainly they conclude (as
indeed that religion cannot be true which needs such instruments of violence to
uphold it so) that persecutors are far from soft and gentle commiseration of
the blindness of others....
For (to keep to the similitude which
the Spirit useth, for instance) to batter down a stronghold, high wall, fort,
tower, or castle, men bring not a first and second admonition, and after
obstinacy, excommunication, which are spiritual weapons concerning them that be
in the church: nor exhortation to repent and be baptized, to believe in the
Lord Jesus, etc., which are proper weapons to them that be without, etc. But to take a stronghold, men bring cannons,
culverins, saker, bullets, powder, muskets, swords, pikes, etc., and these to
this end are weapons effectual and proportionable.
On the other side, to batter down
idolatry, false worship, heresy, schism, blindness, hardness, out of the soul
and spirit, it is vain, improper, and unsuitable to bring those weapons which
are used by persecutors, stocks, whips, prisons, swords, gibbets, stakes, etc. (where these seem to prevail with some
cities or kingdoms, a stronger force sets up again, what a weaker pull'd down),
but against these spiritual strongholds in the souls of men, spiritual
artillery and weapons are proper, which are mighty through God to subdue and
bring under the very thought to obedience, or else to bind fast the soul with
chains of darkness, and lock it up in the prison of unbelief and hardness to
PEACE. I pray descend
now to the second evil which you observe in the answerer's position, viz., that
it would be evil to tolerate notorious evildoers, seducing teachers, etc.
TRUTH. I say the evil
is that he most improperly and confusedly joins and couples seducing teachers
with scandalous livers.
PEACE. But is it not
true that the world is full of seducing teachers, and is it not true that
seducing teachers are notorious evildoers?
TRUTH. I answer, far
be it from me to deny either, and yet in two things I shall discover the great
evil of this joining and coupling seducing teachers, and scandalous livers as
one adequate or proper object of the magistrate's care and work to suppress and
First, it is not an homogeneal (as we
speak) but an hetergeneal 3
commixture or joining together of things most different in kinds and natures,
as if they were both of one consideration....
TRUTH. I answer, in
granting with Brentius 4
that man hath not power to make laws to bind conscience, he overthrows such his
tenent and practice as restrain men from their worship, according to their
conscience and belief, and constrain them to such worships (though it be out of
a pretense that they are convinced) which their own souls tell them they have
no satisfaction nor faith in.
Secondly, whereas he affirms that men
may make laws to see the laws of God observed.
I answer, God needeth not the help of
a material sword of steel to assist the sword of the Spirit in the affairs of
conscience, to those men, those magistrates, yea that commonwealth which makes
such magistrates, must needs have power and authority from Christ Jesus to fit
judge and to determine in all the great controversies concerning doctrine,
discipline, government, etc.
And then I ask whether upon this
ground it must not evidently follow that:
Either there is no lawful commonw
earth nor civil state of men in the world, which is not qualified with this
spiritual discerning (and then also that the very commonweal hath more light
concerning the church of Christ than the church itself).
Or, that the commonweal and
magistrates thereof must judge and punish as they are persuaded in their own
belief and conscience (be their conscience paganish, Turkish, or antichristian)
what is this but to confound heaven and earth together, and not only to take
away the being of Christianity out of the world, but to take away all civility,
and the world out of the world, and to lay all upon heaps of confusion? . ..
PEACE. The fourth head
is the proper means of both these powers to attain their ends.
First, the proper means whereby the civil
power may and should attain its end are only political, and principally these
First, the erecting and establishing
what form of civil government may seem in wisdom most meet, according to
general rules of the world, and state of the people.
Secondly, the making, publishing, and
establishing of wholesome civil laws, not only such as concern civil justice,
but also the free passage of true religion; for outward civil peace ariseth and
is maintained from them both, from the latter as well as from the former.
Civil peace cannot stand entire, where
religion is corrupted (2 Chron. 15. 3. 5. 6; and Judges 8). And yet such laws, though conversant about religion, may still be
counted civil laws, as, on the contrary, an oath cloth still remain religious
though conversant about civil matters.
Thirdly, election and appointment of
civil officers to see execution to those laws.
Fourthly, civil punishments and
rewards of transgressors and observers of these laws.
Fifthly, taking up arms against the
enemies of civil peace.
Secondly, the means whereby the church may and
should attain her ends are only ecclesiastical, which are chiefly five.
First, setting up that form of church
government only of which Christ hath given them a pattern in his Word.
Secondly, acknowledging and admitting
of no lawgiver in the church but Christ and the publishing of His laws.
Thirdly, electing and ordaining of
such officers only, as Christ hath appointed in his Word.
Fourthly, to receive into their
fellowship them that are approved and inflicting spiritual censures against
them that o end.
Fifthly, prayer and patience in
suffering any evil from them that be without, who disturb their peace.
So that magistrates, as magistrates,
have no power of setting up the form of church government, electing church
officers, punishing with church censures, but to see that the church does her
duty herein. And on the other side, the
churches as churches, have no power (though as members of the commonweal they
may have power) of erecting or altering forms of civil government, electing of
civil officers, inflicting civil punishments (no not on persons excommunicate)
as by deposing magistrates from their civil authority, or withdrawing the
hearts of the people against them, to their laws, no more than to discharge
wives, or children, or servants, from due obedience to their husbands, parents,
or masters; or by taking up arms against their magistrates, though he persecute
them for conscience: for though members of churches who are public officers
also of the civil state may suppress by force the violence of usurpers, as
Iehoiada did Athaliah, yet this they do not as members of the church but as
officers of the civil state.
TRUTH. Here are divers
considerable passages which I shall briefly examine, so far as concerns our
First, whereas they say that the civil
power may erect and establish what form of civil government may seem in wisdom
most meet, I acknowledge the proposition to be most true, both in itself and
also considered with the end of it, that a civil government is an ordinance of
God, to conserve the civil peace of people, so far as concerns their bodies and
goods, as formerly hath been said.
But from this grant I infer (as before
hath been touched) that the sovereign, original, and foundation of civil power
lies in the people (whom they must needs mean by the civil power distinct from
the government set up). And, if so,
that a people may erect and establish what form of government seems to them
most meet for their civil condition; it is evident that such governments as are
by them erected and established have no more power, nor for no longer time,
than the civil power or people consenting and agreeing shall betrust them with. This is clear not only in reason but in the
experience of all commonweals, where the people are not deprived of their
natural freedom by the power of tyrants.
And, if so, that the magistrates
receive their power of governing the church from the people, undeniably it
follows that a people, as a people, naturally consider (of what nature or
nation soever in Europe, Asia, Africa, or America), have fundamentally and
originally, as men, a power to govern the church, to see her do her duty, to
correct her, to redress, reform, establish, etc. And if this be not to pull God and Christ and Spirit out of heaven,
and subject them unto natural, sinful, inconstant men, and so consequently to
Satan himself, by whom all peoples naturally are guided, let heaven and earth
PEACE. Some will here
ask: What may the magistrate then lawfully do with his civil horn or power in
matters of religion?
TRUTH. His horn not
being the horn of that unicorn or rhinoceros, the power of the Lord Jesus in
spiritual cases, his sword not the two-edged sword of the spirit, the word of
God (hanging not about the loins or side, but at the lips. and proceeding out of the mouth of his
ministers) but of an humane and civil nature and constitution, it must
consequently be of a humane and civil operation, for who knows not that
operation follows constitution; And therefore I shall end this passage with
The civil magistrate either respecteth
that religion and worship which his conscience is persuaded is true, and upon
which he ventures his soul; or else that and those which he is persuaded are
Concerning the first, if that which
the magistrate believeth to be true, be true, I say he owes a threefold duty
First, approbation and countenance, a reverent
esteem and honorable testimony, according to Isa. 49, and Revel. 21, with a
tender respect of truth, and the professors of it.
Secondly, personal submission of his
own soul to the power of the Lord Jesus in that spiritual government and
kingdom, according to Matt. 18 and 1
Thirdly, protection of such true
professors of Christ, whether apart, or met together, as also of their estates
from violence and injury, according to Rom. 13.
Now, secondly, if it be a false
religion (unto which the civil magistrate dare not adjoin, yet) he owes:
First, permission (for approbation he
owes not what is evil) and this according to Matthew 13.30 for public peace and
Secondly, he owes protection to the
persons of his subjects (though of a false worship), that no injury be offered
either to the persons or goods of any....
...The God of Peace, the God of Truth
will shortly seal this truth, and confirm this witness, and make it evident to
the whole world, that the doctrine of persecution for cause of conscience, is
most evidently and lamentably contrary to the doctrine of Christ Jesus the
Prince of Peace. Amen.
1. Roger Williams, The Bloudy Tenent of
Persecution ... ("Publications
of the Narragansett Club” [Providence,
R.I.], Vol. III ), pp. 3-4, 63,
58-59, 138-39, 148, 170-71, 201, 247-50, 372-73, 424-25.
2. See Gen.
3. Old forms for "homogeneous” and "heterogeneous.”
4. Johann Brenz (1499-1570), German Lutheran
from Roger Williams classic treatise entitled The Bloody Tenent of
Persecution, for Cause of Conscience was prepared by Constitutional Society. We recommend visiting the Constitutional
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