Visitors to Boston Commons with its graceful swan boats might be surprised to learn what once happened there to Obadiah Holmes. In 1651 Holmes was arrested for preaching Baptist doctrine in nearby Lynn. Friends tried to pay his fine, but Holmes refused. On September 5, 1651 he was taken to Boston Commons, stripped to the waist, and tied to a whipping post. He later wrote: As the man began to lay the strokes upon my back, I said to the people, Though my flesh should fail, yet God would not fail. So it pleased the Lord to come in and fill my heart and tongue; and with an audible voice I broke forth praying unto the Lord not to lay this sin to their charge. In truth, as the strokes fell upon me, I had such a manifestation of God’s presence as the like thereof I never had nor felt, nor can with fleshy tongue express; and the outward pain was so removed from me, that indeed I am not able to declare it to you. It was so easy to me that I could well bear it, yea and in a manner felt it not although it was grievous, the man striking with all his strength (spitting on his hands three times as many affirmed) with a three corded whip, giving me therewith thirty strokes. When he loosed me from the post, having joyfulness in my heart and cheerfulness in my countenance, I told the magistrates, “You have struck me with roses.”
If so, they were covered with thorns. The whipping was so severe that blood ran down Holmes’s body until his shoes overflowed. A friend reported: “Holmes was whipt thirty stripes in such an unmerciful manner that in many days, if not some weeks, he could take no rest, but lay on knees and elbows, not being able to suffer any part of his body to touch the bed.”
But the suffering wasn’t wasted. The trial and whipping of Obadiah Holmes occasioned the conversion of Henry Dunster, president of Harvard, to the Baptists, and led to the organization of Boston’s first Baptist church.
We gladly suffer, because we know that suffering helps us to endure. And endurance builds character, which gives us a hope that will never disappoint us. All of this happens because God has given us the Holy Spirit, who fills our hearts with his love. (Romans 5:3b-5)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Sept. 5.