Roger Williams and the Life of Faith (part 3)

Continuing with my look at the great early Baptist, Roger Williams.  We arrive at the third “trial” that someone who is seeking Christ endures during their progress into maturity.

In this third trial, a person with a measure of spiritual life in Christ has a “hunger and longing after the Ordinance of the word preached.”[1] This is particularly interesting as Williams seems to have had trouble himself staying committed to a congregation. Yet, at the heart of this is a key factor in his lifelong struggle. He did not separate because of apathy, rather he continually pressed for the realization of a true Christian community, a realization that he so hungered and longed for he could not stay content either as a leader or as a follower in just about any particular, limited expression. He makes note that hypocrites also are often eager to attend church. Yet, “false worshippers and false Christians may easily satisfie themselves, and stop the mouths of their consciences, with any formal performance of a sermon by an houre-glasse, or other traditions, or customes of the Fathers, or the Times.”[2]

Indeed, this is his exact argument in his Christenings Make not Christians.[3] A true child of God looks to God, and Christ, following whatever form leads to fruition. This fruition is key, as a second aspect of hypocrisy is the willingness to listen but a neglect of the doing. The true child of God has a “vehement painfull longing, to have its soul satisfied, and its strength of spirituall life and grace increased in the ways of God.”[4] One might even see this as the mission statement of Roger Williams himself.

Fourth, Williams notes a truly spiritual person seeks God, even if they know they cannot satisfy their longing to be a fully obedient child. This is a longing that keeps seeking. This is a seeking after God for himself, not for his blessings, or help. A hypocrite, on the other hand, desires only to have to know God just enough, to have “so much of his grace, and so much of his power against some sins, as may serve to save his soul, when he sees he cannot be saved without it.”[5] Christianity is more than having assurance about salvation. It is more than having a nicely ordered society that maintains a comfortable, civil peace. There is a radical relationship at the heart of Christian theology, and it is understanding the spiritual life as relationship rather than as transaction that drives Williams’s own spirituality.

This leads into the fifth “trial”, which involves “a constant resisting and fighting against all known sin, as sin.”[6] As a true follower seeks out God, they root out sins as barriers between them and their primary goal. There is, in this, the continual struggle of flesh and spirit. Williams does not assert here the idea of Christian perfection, but rather the expectation of Christian struggle in fighting against temptation. A faithful follower does not indulge sin, though he does note there are reasons that might overcome this resistance.  This resistance against sin involves giving up even possible gain, as the greatest gain of all comes in being in harmony with Christ. A hypocrite, on the other hand, may resist some temptations, but not “sin as sin.” Instead, they resist only those things that are “dangerous and hurtful to soul, to body, to purse, to credit.”[7]

Indeed, hypocrisy itself is a sin in Williams’s perspective, and while a hypocrite, by definition, embraces this sin, a child of God seeks all hypocrisy to be rooted out and to live in a truly holy way.[8]

[1] Roger Williams, 7:61.

[2] Roger Williams, 7:61.

[3] In this treatise, he is emphasizing the idea that merely converting native Americans to customs and forms of church does not indicate actual conversion to Christ, as is shown by the rather non-Christian actions of much of Christian Europe and its colonies.

[4] Roger Williams, 7:62

[5] Roger Williams, 7:62.

[6] Roger Williams, 7:63.

[7] Roger Williams, 7:63.

[8] This seems to be at the core of why Williams argued against any association with the Church of England, as they were seen to encourage a mixture of hypocrisy and holiness.

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