He was an Anglican, then a Puritan, then a Separatist, then a Baptist, then a “Seeker.” He quarreled with civil leaders, frustrated church leaders, and loved the Indians. He founded an American colony and established the first Baptist church on American soil. Most of all, he trusted the overruling providence of God so much that he named a city in honor of it.

Who was he? He was Roger Williams, born about 1603 in England. He grew up in London near a square in front of Newgate Prison, famous as the site of execution for condemned heretics. Young Roger witnessed many such executions, and he developed an abhorrence for the persecution of those with differing religious beliefs. As an 18-year-old, he worked as a recording secretary in a British courtroom, transcribing the cases of heretical prosecution. By the time Williams graduated from Cambridge, he was a powerful preacher and a relentless advocate of religious liberty.

In 1630 under King Charles I, Williams was infuriated by the treatment given his friend, Dr. Alexander Leighton, a Puritan—life imprisonment, a heavy fine, defrocking, public whipping, ears cut off, nose split on both sides, and branding of a double SS (for “Sower of Sedition”) on his face.

With righteous wrath, Williams began preaching and writing against the church/state unions and their resulting policies of coercion and persecution. Finding himself at risk, he accepted an invitation from Puritans in Boston and embarked secretly on a ship for America on December 8, 1630. But he found Puritan leaders in America also intolerant. They, too, sought to impose their beliefs through legal constraint. One night news reached him that authorities were plotting to seize him and return him in chains to England. Bundling himself against the cold, he fled through the snow into Indian country. On the shores of Narragansett Bay, he purchased land from the Indians and there he founded a settlement, naming it Providence, where all could worship in freedom. There he established the first Baptist church in America. And there he established the colony of Rhode Island.

John said, “Master, we saw a man using your name to force demons out of people. But we told him to stop, because he isn’t one of us.” “Don’t stop him!” Jesus said. “Anyone who isn’t against you is for you.” (Luke 9:49,50)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day: 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Dec. 8.

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