In 1853, the Free Will Baptist Quarterly debuts, appropriately printed in Providence, Rhode Island, the home of America’s Baptist founder (and the father of Rhode Island), Roger Williams. This first edition of the periodical offers an assessment of Baptists’ heritage of “Soul Liberty.” Paying tribute to Williams and the Rhode Island colony’s founding commitment as “A PLACE FOR ALL KINDS OF CONSCIENCES,” the treatise rejoices that soul freedom has since been established throughout the American nation, while offering a few warnings to Baptists regarding the guarding of their spiritual heritage:
While the world’s history teems with the records of soul oppression, it is a most happy thing that instances of it become less and less numerous under the light of Protestant Christianity, as years roll on….
This certainly indicates a great change since the days of John Cotton. Were he here now…. he [would] be susprised at seeing the wilderness all cleft away, populous cities risen up, and the country settled all over with hamlets; not only would he be disturbed by the hum of factories, and amazed at the enginery of travel among the hills; but he would be confounded to find that that Massachusetts too had become “a Place For All Kinds Of Consciences”—that her population had become steeped in those doctrines of religious toleration, those extreme views of liberty of conscience, which, in his day, were regarded as an element so dangerous to the State, that their advocates were driven away by the civil authorities….
….. it is not ignorance of the rights of conscience, so much as conscious disregard of those rights, of which society now complnins. Caught in the net-work of a subtle influence, men now yield to beguiloments, and under a sweet compulsion are led captive by Satan at his will. And it is the extent of this base abandonment of “soul-freedom,” whether to a crafty devil or to crafty men, that constitutes the most fearful obstacles to the progress of Christianity.