My Musings

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Beating of Obadiah Holmes - Tale of an Unsung Baptist Hero (Part 1)

Obadiah Holmes was born in Reddish, England in the year 1606. The king at this time was King James I, the man responsible for the translation of the King James Version of the Bible. Obadiah grew up working on his father’s farm in an England that mostly practiced Puritanism under the reign of King James I.

In his teen years, Obadiah watched England return to rigid Anglicanism as Charles I took the crown. Charles I made many changes to the political and religious landscape of England, and it was at this time that major religious persecution began to take place. In 1633, the Church of England began burning all Baptists, Puritans, and dissenters. They began beating and imprisoning people by the dozens. It is amazing that Puritans were burned alongside their Baptist persecuted brethren, and then they came to America and began to persecute them as well! These activities resulted in many people sailing to America in search of religious freedom. These were mostly puritans and a small group of Baptists.

Holmes was married to Catherine Hyde in 1630. He was saved in 1638 and set sail for New England that same year. After reaching the colonies, Holmes began to resist the false teaching of the standing order of the Puritan Church. He was plagued with many questions about their church: Was Baptism legitimate for infants? What if you were baptized and not a believer?

His faith in God and his knowledge of the Bible began to grow very much at this time, but it also began to cause some major problems and conflicts with the Puritans around him. Obadiah Holmes was willing to stand up against the standing Church.

Finally, without any prior training, Obadiah started a separate Congregational Church. This act shook up the standing order and Holmes was entirely ostracized. Later in 1649, John Clarke came to town. Under Clarke’s preaching, Holmes received assurance of his salvation, realized that he was a Baptist and was baptized by Clarke. Obadiah Holmes and John Clarke were now marked men by the standing order.

The persecution here in the United States, although many do not know this, was just as vehement and cruel as it was in England against those who did not conform to the religious guides of the standing order church. Our religious freedoms today have been heavily influenced by the persecuted Baptists of yester-year.

In 1651, the Newport Baptist Church received a request from a man eighty miles away named William Witter for a pastoral visit. Newport Baptist Church was the only Baptist church on American soil at this time. Obadiah Holmes was a member in good standing under the pastoral leadership of Pastor John Clarke. Witter was up in years and blind and was unable to attend church as he would like so he requested a pastoral visit from the only Baptist Church in America.

So upon request, John Clarke, Obadiah Holmes and one other layman set out to visit Witter. These three men set out to make an eighty mile pastoral visit. After several days of travel, they arrived at Witter’s home. They spent the night with Witter and planned to have church services with him on the following day, the Lord’s day.

As soon as news reached Lynn, Massachusetts, a warrant for their arrest was issued and a constable was dispatched to the home. They began their service the next day after four or five visitors arrived but were soon interrupted as the constables came bursting into the room. The constables arrested the three men and hauled them back to town.

They were forced that day to attend a puritan church in the afternoon. Again, it’s amazing that those who were persecuted in England are now the ones doing the persecution to the Baptists in the American colonies.

Upon entering the meeting house, the three tipped their hats but did not remove them. It being the custom to remove your hat in a church, this act suggested contempt for their services. They were saying that this was not a church. The preacher was not a preacher. Their infant baptism was no baptism. Their gospel was not the gospel of the Word of God. They kept their hats on.

The constable was commanded to knock off their hats and did so. Clarke attempted to preach during the middle of the service but was silenced. They were taken to prison.

On Tuesday, July 2, 1651, Holmes, Clarke, and Crandle (The third man) were taken to Boston. After an animated trial the judge agreed with the prosecutor, John Cotton, that these men were worthy of great punishment. Remember, these men were being tried for worshipping God in a private home right here on American soil.

Clarke was fined 20 pounds or be “well whipped”. Holmes was fined 30 pounds or be “well whipped”. Crandle was fined 5 pounds or be “well-whipped”.

Money was raised to pay the fines. Crandle was released from the fine. Clarke and Holmes refused permission for their fines to be paid, not willing to admit quilt, knowing that the whipping post was their alternative.

As Clarke was led to the whipping post, a friend pressed the money into the hands of the executioner and Clarke was released. It is unclear whether Clarke was in favor of this action, but from the record of his other actions, we can probably assume that he wasn’t. Either way, he was released.

Holmes was led to the post and stripped to the waste. While being stripped and fastened to the whipping post, Holmes began to preach a sermon to the on looking crowd telling them to stay faithful to their beliefs. Holmes sentence was thirty lashes using a whip with three hard leather strands, the same as a rapist.

Many in the crowd cried out for mercy. At least thirteen people in the crowd were arrested for sympathizing with him. Each of the three strands tore skin away for a total of ninety gashes through the flesh. People screamed out in horror. History tells us that his blood ran down and filled his shoes.

The picture doesn’t do justice to the severe beating that this man endured because of his intense desire to love Christ supremely according to his conscience and the Word of God. Thank God for men who took a stand in years gone by so that we can enjoy the freedoms that we have today!

“For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.” ~I Peter 2:19

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