Roger Williams and the Life of Faith (part 4)

We’ve gone through five ‘trials’ that Roger Williams taught were part of the faithful Christian life.  These are not simply something to endure, however, but ways of response, showing true faith in faithful response to tests of faith.

In the sixth ‘trial’, a true follower of God endures troubles and persecution without attributing blame to God. Just as Job would question but not curse God, so too a true child of God may struggle deeply but in this struggle they will maintain hope in the God of their salvation. Such a person “is always ready to take his part, to speak well of him, and endures not, with a quiet mind, to hear his name dishonored.”[1] Hypocrites, on the other hand, use their public devotion as a stepping stone to their own successes, “for a stirrup to get up into the sadle of their own Names and Honours, or as a commodity to get something by it, as an hirely that serves God for wages, and while he cries , let the Lord be glorified, (Isa. 66.) persecutes his servants…”[2]

In contrast, Williams writes that a servant of God is willing to be trampled into the dust, “to be cast out, that the name of God alone may be exalted,” and in this way show devotion that goes beyond selfish gratification. This being trampled into the dust may not only be caused by outside forces, but may be a result of submitting to the “correcting and afflicting hand of God,” and as such is Williams’s seventh trial a true follower of Christ must endure. Hypocrites, on the other hand, endure trials as they are forced to endure them, not seeing correction or improvement as children, but as victims of divine punishment—“a Saul, a Pharaoh, Etc.”[3]

A hypocrite will thus run from God in the event of this persecution, trying to escape as a beaten dog might, while a true Christian runs to God in the midst of struggle. Likewise, a hypocrite will seek to end the pain before ending the sin that might be at the root of the trial. “But,” Williams writes, “a true child of God, truly (though weakly) desires to see, and abhor, and slay his dearest sins, because he knows they are but flattering traytors and guilded poisons.”[4]

The eighth trial a Christian follower can expect involves a true willingness to participate more and more with Christ, more and more in the company of his followers, as Christ leads, even as this may lead into hardship.[5] There is a longing after true worship, and while this may not prevent a Christian from being lulled into false worship, it is the heart of the true child to seek to serve God as faithfully as possible in any given setting. A follower may be “asleep” in regards to true and accurate worship, but “awake” in regards to inclinations and desires.[6]

We see in this Williams’s own conflict about the churches of his era, which he could not affirm as true even as he could affirm there were true Christians. His disagreements, it seems, often reflected this complex paradox. He rationalized it for himself, in this treatise, by comparing devotion to a marriage, in which there are degrees of affection, some lively and strong, some dull and weak, with the key factor being a willingness to always turn towards the lover, away from false temptations.[7]

This could very much explain, along with other factors, his vehemence against the Quakers who he saw as a very dangerous, tempting seducer that would woo weary souls into what he saw as false worship. Indeed, his vehemence could be even more explained by his own temptations, especially as Quakers seemed to take up many of Williams’s own positions, popularizing them in a way Williams never seemed able.

[1] Roger Williams, 7:64.

[2] Roger Williams, 7:64. This is an interesting list of several of Williams’s apparent ecclesial pet peeves.

[3] Roger Williams, 7:65. It is interesting to note here the differing perspective on divine punishment in regards to Anne Hutchison, whose deformed baby, and that of her follower Mary Dyer, was seen as a sure sign of apostasy and God’s judgment. The leaders of Boston felt themselves vindicated by such an event while it is probable based on this passage that Williams would not see such an event as punishment, but rather as yet another trial, testing the faith of a true believer, not punishing the misdeeds of a false one. Indeed, Williams often notes the success that even pagan kings have in their lives.

[4] Roger Williams, 7:66.

[5] George Fox, The Journal of George Fox, ed. Rufus Jones (Richmond, IN: Friends United Press, 1976), 408 writes, “…I and my Friends direct all people to the Spirit of God in them, to mortify the deeds of the flesh. This brings them into well-doing, and away from that which the magistrate’s sword is against, which eases the magistrates, who are for the punishment of evil-doers.” Though, curiously enough, claiming the Spirit as the source of their actions led the Quakers to, not away from, the magistrates.

[6] Roger Williams, 7:67.

[7] Roger Williams 7:67.

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