Review of "The Subversive Puritan: Roger Williams and Freedom of Conscience" by Mostyn Roberts


The British author Mostyn Roberts has written a hagiography of Roger Williams entitled, “The Subversive Puritan”, published this year by Evangelical Press. The title is erroneous, because Williams was not a Puritan, that is someone seeking the reformation of the established Protestant Church in England. Firstly, Roger Williams left England for America. Secondly, he refused to believe in the legitimacy of any church on earth since none of them had been directly founded by an Apostle (Roberts, p.144). This was not a deep theological statement: this was an excuse. There was no possibility of an Apostle returning to found a Church for Roger Williams and so his position masked a total rejection of the public worship of God, led by a minister, no matter how orthodox the form of service, doctrinal standards and faithfulness to the Holy Scriptures.

Roger Williams’ famous belief in the separation of Church and State was therefore a complete red herring. There is no need to believe in separation if there is no Church. Separation was a Trojan horse to abolish the Church altogether and confine religion to the private sphere. This was facilitated by Williams’ insistence that the only thing that matters is the conscience of the individual. Empower each believer to do what is right in his own eyes, without the guiding hand of a minister and a creed, and soon the Church is abolished because such individualists will never have enough in common to meet together to worship God. You are left with the many cults and cliques of modern America.

With a foul and degrading choice of words, Roger Williams described an established church as “spiritual rape” (Roberts, p.128) and persecution for conscience as “soul rape” (Roberts, p.139). So let us see how far he respected the conscience of someone with whom he disagreed:

He [Roger Williams] entered into a correspondence with Sir Edward Coke’s daughter, Anne Sadleir, in 1652-53. … He sent her a copy of his Experiments of Spiritual Life but it was returned with her recommendation to read some good royalist and high church literature by King Charles, Richard Hooker, Dr. Jeremy Taylor and Bishop Lancelot Andrewes. Never one to take a hint, Williams wrote again, sending her this time a copy of The Bloudy Tenent, Yet More Bloudy [by Williams]. She ended her reply to this, ‘entreating you to trouble me no more in this kind.’ He did trouble her, with concern for her soul. Anne replied, thanking God that her parents had brought her up in ‘the old and best religion’ it being her ‘glorie that I am a member of the church of England.’ Williams wrote asking her to read her own Jeremy Taylor - he recommended toleration of all religions. Her last known reply ended with a request to ‘trouble no more with your letters for they are very troublesome to her that wishes you in the place whence you came.’ Well, at least he had tried! (Roberts, p.158-9)

In that final flippant quip by Mostyn Roberts we see the lie in all its ugliness. Roger Williams was not content to leave Anne Sadleir in the freedom of her own conscience. He did not show respect for her private religion. He harrassed her. He bullied her. In modern parlance, he groomed her. Roger Williams denied kings the right to promote the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, but he gave himself the right to promote his own books and his own opinions with force. Roger Williams denied the right of ministers to protect the flock of Christians in their care, to nurture the young and weak in faith, to teach with vigour those who must teach their own families, to stand between his people and the wolves who would coax them into danger. Such a wolf was Roger Williams.

Williams denied that the civil magistrate had authority to maintain the lawful keeping of the first four commandments. He would not lift a finger to promote the true worship of God, suppress idols, enforce the solemnity of oaths or the keeping of the Sabbath day. He said that there are only four things that are universally repugnant to men: murder, adultery, theft and lying (Roberts, p.21). He determined these things to be evil, quite aside from the Ten Commandments.

Mostyn Roberts glibly describes Williams’ belief in freedom of conscience as “walking in the truth”.

Obeying the corrupt conscience may lead to sin but disobeying conscience is sin and is tacit contempt for God, for it is still God’s messenger we are disobeying. … Rebellion against what you believe to be God’s voice (even if your belief is wrong) reveals contempt for God; the remedy is to align conscience more and more with the Word of God. (Roberts, p.190-1, 193)

This is the road to perdition, whereby a man may justify any and every deed of depravity because he was only obeying his conscience. If a man’s conscience deems it righteous to rape a child, blow up a school or shoot all abortionists, according to Williams it is a sin to disobey that conscience. And Williams compounds the error by blasphemously equating man’s wicked conscience with the voice of God. To tell such a rogue that he should conform to God’s Word is surely a sick joke! He has neither the ability to obey God’s law, nor the will to do so. Either a man is free in his conscience and has the world at his feet to abuse it as he likes or he is bound in service to God and must follow the straight and narrow path. He cannot be both. 

It is often hard to distinguish between the voice of Roger Williams and that of Mostyn Roberts, so besotted is the author with his subject. Roberts writes with the complacency of a man who surrendered long ago to the ideology of the U.S.A. and considers everything else to be immature. He has shed his own British history and adopted the prejudices and petulant tone of Roger Williams, inviting us to regard all faithful Protestants as persecutors-in-waiting. (Are we to suppose that the great Protestant martyrs of the Reformation threw themselves into the flames at Smithfield?) Roberts even casts aspersions on the remnant in England today who still cherish their Protestant inheritance:

The American Right is accused of baptising the flag, the constitution and capitalism. British evangelicals are sometimes in danger of dong the same with British Protestant history and Western ‘Christian’ culture more generally. (Roberts, p.228)

This is a lie. It requires great effort today to reclaim Protestant history from the twisting reinterpretation of modern humanists and to remember our true English Protestant heritage. Roberts belittles Church history in order to pave the way for a multi-cultured pluralism modelled on the U.S.A., which he fully admires:

The constitutional arrangement in America, with ‘no establishment of religion’ is healthier for religion; for the church; and for the state. (Roberts, p.207)

The Subversive Puritan is an openly provocative book. It wears a fake smile of fairness, but on closer inspection it is the smile of a man with his foot on his enemy’s neck, whose face is rammed firmly into the dirt. Mostyn Roberts believes the argument is over. He assumes that every right minded person will agree with him in celebrating the pluralism of the U.S.A. and the “progress” of such pluralism in the U.K. The book is intellectually complacent and lazy. He raises points for discussion and then flicks them away lightly, as though the answer is so obvious that to say any more would be demeaning. At no point does Roberts address historical opposition to his point of view.

For example, 150 years ago, the Rev. Thomas Rawson Birks published a brilliant polemic against the separation of Church and State. It was timely, as the Church of Ireland was being disestablished. The Church of England had been dealt a fatal blow 40 years before, with licence granted to Roman Catholics. The Rev. Birks knew that the nation was in a state of apostasy, just as the U.S.A. had been from its inception. The parallel is clear and yet Mostyn Roberts took no notice of the Rev. Birks, who considered in great detail matters that Roberts had ignored.

The Rev. Birks writes:

All men - whether rulers, statesmen, or private persons - are bound to obey the Gospel, and to serve and honour the true God, and Jesus Christ, whom He has sent. But many, perhaps, disobey the command, and are rebellious against the voice of their Maker. Hence it is inferred that rulers ought not to profess openly their faith in Christ, nor to make the spread of the Gospel an object of their rule, because it would be unjust to those who differ from them. They would do wrong to atheists, if they pay public homage to the God of Heaven. They would persecute the Deist or the Jew, and inflict on them a sore injustice, if they were to profess allegiance to Christ, and to own the Lord Jesus to be the eternal Son of God, the true fountain of their own authority. They would thus teach that it is socially better for men to believe in Christ than to disbelieve in Him, to worship God than to disown Him, and this would be iniquitous and unjust. What marvellous reasoning, to be adopted for a moment by pious and thoughtful men! Surely Christian faith must be feeble and ready to expire, when such a doctrine is not rejected at once as preposterous and absurd. The root of these sophisms is a disguised and subtle unbelief. Opinions are viewed as everything, truth as nothing. A creed is made a kind of private property, which every one may claim to have protected, like land or merchandise, by equal laws, instead of resolving itself, in every case, into the two alternatives of truth and falsehood. (The Rev. Birks, p.10)

Are they [rulers] to believe God’s messages only just so far as the popular voice approves? Is it lawful for them to promote the outward wealth of their people, and to forget all that constitutes their true welfare, as if riches abused were a blessing, not a curse, to those who obtain them? Is it right for them to punish crime, and neglect the means which God himself has ordained for its prevention and removal? (The Rev. Birks, p.13)

Wherever power and influence have been received, so far must the claims of Christ extend. The wisdom which neglects to honour Him is madness. The power which refuses to own His authority is treason against the King of heaven. (The Rev. Birks, p.18)

He [the ruler] cannot serve God and Mammon, nor consent to mind only earthly things, and still do all to the glory of God. No glory can be rendered to Him by a national constitution, where His holy Name is not allowed to enter, and His word is never consulted, and has no acknowledged place; where the scales are weighted so heavily with sugar, and corn, and bales of merchandise, that the welfare of millions of souls is dust in the balance, and not allowed to weigh one feather in the public counsels. From such a base and fatal policy, and the principles which lead to it, may God in His mercy deliver our favoured land! (The Rev. Birks, p.20-21)

Our Lord came to announce the truth to a world of rebels, that He is the true King, whom they are bound to obey, and that no thought or action, either of subjects or rulers, is exempt from His authority. (The Rev. Birks, p.37)

The Rev. Birks spends an entire chapter looking at the New Testament and then another in the Old, to determine what Scripture says. He looks at the responsibilities and complications of having a national Church and how the balance of power is maintained in a Biblical fashion. The Rev. Birks was not afraid to look at the alternative:

If the mere name of conscience is always to prevail, social life becomes anarchy, and every one must be left to do what is right in his own eyes. (The Rev. Birks, p.55)

A State leavened by such principles must become a hotbed of anarchy and atheism, a cage of every unclean and hateful bird. It will guarantee the omnipotence of conscience, and refuse to own the Almighty power of God. The truths of His word will be set aside, and replaced by a new creed; the right of conscience to sanctify every error, and give impugnity to every crime … (The Rev. Birks, p.165)

Where religious truths are set aside, obedience will soon be defamed as a slavish thing, and lawless crime be dignified with the titles of courage and freedom. (The Rev. Birks, p.53)

The history of the last 150 years, both in the U.S.A. and the U.K. has more than proved the Rev. Birks correct. But this condition - termed by Roberts as pluralism and by Birks as atheism - is applauded by Mostyn Roberts, as the legacy of his idol.

… if  we are to continue to have faith in the values of toleration we must have a strong faith in the good that will come of it … (Roberts, p.214)

If Williams can only help us be aware of the possibilities of the days in which we live instead of the downbeat sense of loss that Christians feel, he will have done something for us. (Roberts, p.227)

Roger Williams was a renegade from the Lord Jesus Christ, because he would not live under his authority. When Williams held civil power in the state of Rhode Island, he actively legislated to deny the King of Kings lordship over the people. His “toleration” gave equal time to the Devil. Christians do not need a book to glorify Roger Williams. By promoting him and his beliefs, the author and publisher are both pledging their allegiance to his unbelief, just like the lyrical endorsements that promote the book. Amongst them is The Christian Institute, that great hope of watery evangelicals, who get a thrill in “tut-tutting” over the latest sin in godless Britain and thank God that there is an organisation to stand in the breach and try to keep the world safe for them. The Institute begs for a corner in which to sit and it would keep on doing so until the Day of Judgment. They do not want to live in Christendom. They believe in freedom of conscience and freedom of worship. It is the mindset of the Baptist parent who drops his child at Sunday School and spends the next 40 years hoping he will be saved instead of training his child as a baptised member of the Church, raising him within the covenant, and putting the child under a perpetual obligation to live to the glory of God and to keep his commandments.

Earnest and devout Christians are ready to despair of hearty allegiance to Christ in the high places of power. They think it prudent to bargain, if possible, for a bare neutrality, as their best safeguard from direct and positive mischief, and from the risk of a direct persecution of the truth of God. (The Rev. Birks, p.39)

It is no wonder that Mostyn Roberts wants us to forget our Protestant history because in it we would learn of godly men and women who suffered the most appalling injuries for Christ’s sake, even to death. We talk of persecution today as something that happens in foreign lands and we send money as though it will help. We want to secure for those poor Christians the same rights that we enjoy: the right to a private religion. If this is the best that can be hoped for in a Muslim country, it should not be the best than can be hoped for in a country such as England with a rich Christian heritage!

We are not called to lead a revolt against the powers-that-be and put a Christian King in his place, to set up ourselves and whip the nation into submission. The Church has been cowering in the corner of society for so long that it is no longer fit to run a fish and chip shop. But we have to wake up to the wickedness of the current state of affairs and pray for reformation to restore Christendom. We must look for the day when Christian ministers will walk hand in hand with the civil magistrate to glorify God in the nation. Since that day has not yet come, Christians must continue to fear God and not men; regarding the curses on the nation around us as justified; living under the authority and protection of the King of kings, to whom we will render all service, like Daniel in a foreign land; singing the Psalms which proclaim the glory of the Lord God who will annihilate his enemies and before whom every knee will bow. This is Christian liberty. 

Believers in the U.S.A. cannot disown Roger Williams without undermining their belief in America, founded as it is on the same godless principles as Rhode Island. This is a problem and it is their problem, by inheritance and by continued practice. But there is no excuse whatsoever for Mostyn Roberts to wave the American flag over the British Isles and tell us to worship Roger Williams and his idol of freedom from God. It is a lie from start to end. The truth is that which we see around us, a truth that the Rev. Birks could see in prospect 150 years ago:

Perseverance in this course against human laws, as those must often do who obey God rather than man, will resemble direct rebellion. Meetings for worship, from which strangers are excluded, such as Christian fellowship may require, will be suspicious signs of treasonable conspiracy. The application of private funds to promote a creed or a system, which breeds contention, will seem a dangerous perversion of part of the national wealth. The claims of conscience and religious faith, and the instincts of social peace, will be in collision at every turn and thus the Ruler who would be neutral, while content to be ignorant, and impartial to all creeds without caring for any, will soon be found to tolerate every pliant form or error that will bend to his will, and to persecute, as a dangerous adversary, the unbending Word and Truth of God. (The Rev. Birks, p.60)

The Subversive Puritan: Roger Williams and Freedom of Conscience

By Mostyn Roberts

Published by Evangelical Press, 2019

Church and State: Or, national religion and church establishments

By Rev. Thomas Rawson Birks (1810-1883)

Published in 1869

"BROAD OAK: A Father's Legacy" (15th Anniversary)

It is 15 years this summer since the production of BROAD OAK: A Father’s Legacy, a 30 minute documentary on the life and work of Philip Henry, father of the acclaimed Bible commentator Matthew Henry.

The film was entered into the SAICFF in 2004 and its selection for a prize meant that all distribution rights immediately became the possession of Vision Forum, without any buy-out, prize money or subsidiary remuneration. This was not a fair deal.

Since the organisation is no longer in existence, I judge the contractual obligation to be over. And I am very pleased to share my little film, produced on a tiny budget at the age of 19, with the patient support of my Dad and my older brother. I am well aware that it did not deserve to win any prizes but the subject matter is worthy of a wider audience.

Of music

When I left university with a First Class music degree, I had endured many complications through rejecting the current course of Classical music. My total aversion to composition based on dissonance and discord meant that I was at odds with the current trends my love of harmony was deemed backward. I coped with this in the knowledge that “ordinary” people know better and I determined to write for them.

Read more

Dead Saviours

While so much in British politics is on hold to avoid leaving Europe, the government are proceeding with plans to make all bodies the possession of the State. In a short time, we will be presumed to be organ donors unless we take the trouble to opt-out:

This has been the law in Wales for the last 3 years, so that those of us visiting Wales for the day have been in an ambiguous position: if there was a terrible road accident, would they check whether we were resident in Wales before taking our organs or after?

Read more

Composing when not under the influence

I read this article the other day by Katie Botkin:

It purports to be looking at the deficiencies of Christian art, specifically music. She makes some obvious points, which tend to throw more rocks at a form of American Christianity than illuminate the matter of music with any depth.

Her main point is that Christians make poor art because they will only project a censored view of life, which lacks any authenticity with respect to the “human experience”, is cold and therefore bad art. She bases this on her own attempts to conform to this artificial and culturally-influenced standard in novel writing. She contrasts this with her brother’s song-writing which invokes more Buddhism than Christianity and is better art because it is “real”.

Read more

How does your garden grow?

This hedge of conifers is 85 foot long and has been growing alongside my home for over 25 years.

On Monday, it will be felled.

The action is not voluntary. We are being compelled by the Council, who assert that the pavement is being obstructed. Although the conifers at either end grow out more than in the middle, it is not so obstructed that neighbours do not cycle down the path at speed. Two ladies walked arm in arm down the pavement the other day. Besides, no neighbour complained to us. We knew nothing until we were given an ultimatum.

Read more

The Talented William Cowper

The Life of William Cowper paperback is now in stock once more in the Shop.

Something once written tends to fade in the memory. It mattered to us enormously at the time and while affection for the subject remains, the details often disappear.

But Cowper’s poems do not. He was adept at looking at the details of life and drawing a beautiful observation from the every day, so when we see the every day we find ourselves reflecting as he did.

Read more

How to make music and still be a child

This still from my Music Mania promo is a real photo of girls in the town where I was born. They already wear the weary of look of children forced to practise beyond the point of pleasure or even patience. Most children who have undergone Classical music training will remember the day when they reached this same level of “dedication” to music. My Grandmother, an accomplished pianist, associated making music with a much loved teacher and so her effort was associated with happiness.

Read more

No time left for sentiment

When Christianity is reduced to sentimentality, the Church neglects its duty to God. Surrendering to the world, apologising for what it believes, desperate to prove itself “kind”, the Church soon falls into decay.

Some will say that such an approach is merely love for our enemies. But consider what “love” means. It is seeking someone’s good in accordance with God’s laws. Therefore, if someone is promoting heresy and leading others on the road to perdition, we would seek their good by pointing out their errors, rather than allowing them to lead others into sin. So if we would love our enemies we will be busy and unpopular.

Read more

Excerpts from "No Earthly Good?" by Abigail J. Fox

“Culture follows religion. We cannot mend the religion of others. We can only take care of our own. Once we understand our duties, we may provide an edifying influence on the Christians around us. Should this be true and growing, then such a Church will be a beautiful sight and will produce its own culture, a vineyard worth sampling. That culture could be replicated whenever God-fearing people populate a Christian Church. And should those people find themselves with authority over regions and even a nation, then the culture will reflect the religion by God’s appointment, and not by the shortcut taken by well-meaning but arrogant Christians.

Read more

Wisdom Speaks

When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you.

Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me:

For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the LORD:

They would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof.

Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices.

For the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them.

But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil.

Proverbs 1.27-33

Idols and the perversion of Florence Nightingale

For over two years I have been researching and writing for a book about idols who are accepted as Christian (or accepted by Christians). The adoration of such idols makes them millstones around our neck. We are encouraged to act in imitation of them, to construe their behaviour as Christian, even though on closer inspection they disregarded most of God’s commands and set themselves up as saviours of mankind. By worshipping such men and women, we lead others into idolatry and far from their duty before God.

Read more

A Sharpened Antithesis & the London Humanist Choir

Henry R. Van Til said that we are influenced by what we oppose and that is true. As Christians, we recognise error and distance ourselves from it. We try to be more consistent in the face of obvious inconsistency. However, we are not defined by the difference.

By contrast, the London Humanist Choir is a screaming example of people who are defined by their hate. They hate God. They hate the Lord Jesus Christ. And when the members of the choir gather, they sing in order to mock the Lord. That is their worship and their damnation.

Read more

Truth, truth? What is truth?

I will not watch The Favourite. The BBC’s Breakfast show is promoting it as a comedy and has twice (to my knowledge) made Dan Walker - a professing Christian - the mouthpiece for the promotion.

The most obvious reason not to watch The Favourite would be the gratuitous decision to transform Queen Anne into a lesbian. It loses any approximation of being a historical work from this moment and becomes yet another excuse for pornographic voyeurism.

Read more

Give us this day our daily bread

These words from the Lord’s Prayer have gained a special poignancy to me over the last year. As commercially produced bread is increasingly adulterated with soya flour (often modified), it has been more and more difficult to find any wholesome options to buy. I started to make it myself, as a supplement to the bread available, but over the Christmas holiday we have only had the bread I have made.

I remember one of my favourite Sunday books as a very little child was called “Thank you for my loaf of bread”. The little boy thanks his parents, who say that they only bought it; he thanks the baker who only baked it; he thanks the farmer … and so on, until he thanks the Lord for his loaf of bread. The attitude of gratitude is certainly the right one.

Read more

The Alignment of Romanticism and Roman Catholicism

England apostatised through Romanticism. It was a suitable portal because it did not appear to be a religion. Most people did not even know the term - they just became obsessively interested in literature, art, music and architecture. Once their interest was captured, the English became very jealous over their right to enjoy the Arts. Ultimately, in 1870, they fought the clergy over the right of the people to have a concert in a cathedral rather than a sermon. The people won and there was no turning back.

Read more

Why do we sing?

When we sing (rather than read) the Psalms, we hear the words differently. We proclaim rather than study and, unless we are dreadful hypocrites, the act of singing Psalms is a declaration of consent. There may be parts of the Psalms we do not understand as well as others and that should provoke us to further study, but it is still important to sing them all. We are not told only to sing the Psalms once we have reached a level of theological acumen. By contrast, the person who sings the hymns of men selects those which he feels to be most true, which accurately reflect his beliefs and experience. We are not given such autonomy with the Psalms. We sing the same songs as children, adults and in old age. We change - the Psalms do not.

Read more

The Love of Christ, all the year round

‘Tis the season of make-believe and especially in the realm of Christmas letters. Through the door they come with the Christmas cards - letters fat with falsehood, exuding an air of superiority. It is the supercilious smile of English success as one by one, correspondents detail the perfection of their lives and cast an unwelcome shadow over already dark wintry days. It is not envy you feel at their happiness, but sheer disappointment that people you had thought of as friends have communicated nothing whatsoever of themselves. It is all externals and conformity, the sun ever shining on a catalogue of births and marriages, holidays and achievements. It produces the impression that anything real - from problems at work to sickness - would be construed as failure and so must not be shared.

Read more

Modern Music vs. Good Music

I noted this week that one of my former professors in composition and orchestration died last spring. It was not unexpected, after suffering a stroke in 2013.

I met James Wishart on my first tour of the university and listened to a presentation he delivered on composition. On that occasion he had forgotten to bring a CD of his own music and so I had no opportunity of knowing his style, namely what he called good. I could not have guessed how ghastly his modernistic compositions sounded. Instead, I heard him speak of being a grand encourager to every young composer and I looked forward to his support in starting my own career.

Read more

Answering Criticisms of my Review of Ann Voskamp's "One Thousand Gifts"

In December 2016, I received a lengthy comment on my review of “One Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp. I chose not to publish the comment at that time because to do so would have required a response. I was not sure how to approach the commenter and therefore put it aside. But I never forgot the comment's opening words:

Firstly, it's not a book of theology. 

My original review was written nearly 4 years ago and in that time I have given little thought to Ann Voskamp and her large number of followers. This week I revisited her website to see how things had changed. Less than one week ago and to coincide with Easter, she had published an excerpt from her new book. It started thus:

Read more