Thursday, July 10, 2008

John James

John James

The overthrow of the Puritan Commonwealth and the restoration of the monarchy in late 1660 placed nonconformists in difficult circumstances. Charles II, suspected of being a secret Catholic, sought the overthrow of all nonconformist privileges and freedoms. His plan was inadvertently aided by a Fifth-Monarchist revolt in January 1661. Fifth Monarchists looked for the soon-coming kingdom of God on earth (the fifth monarchy of Daniel 2). The more radical Fifth Monarchists sought to set up Christ's rule through arms.

Charles II found a seventh-day Sabbatarian a convenient target for his wrath. The pastor of London's Seventh Day Baptist Mill Yard congregation was John James, a poor silk weaver by trade. A Fifth Monarchist, though not a revolutionary, his favorite scripture was Revelation 11:15, "The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ and he shall reign forever and ever" (KJV). His martyrdom is one of the most thoroughly documented of that decade.

On the Sabbath of October 19, 1661, while preaching before his flock, the king's officers dragged him from his pulpit. They accused him of treason, not of being a Jew or keeping the Sabbath. This was a political trial, though it had clear religious overtones.

No credible evidence was submitted to substantiate the charges against him. Witnesses against him contradicted each other. Brave souls testified for him that they had heard the witnesses talk among themselves of how the state had bribed or threatened them into testifying. Others stepped forward on his behalf, denying he ever spoke treason. Still, he was found guilty. His sentence read:
John James, thou art to be carried from hence to the prison, and from thence to the place of execution and there to be hanged by the neck, and being yet alive, thy bowels to be taken out (a fire having been prepared before hand) and to be burned before thy face. Thy head to be severed from thy body and thy body quartered, thy head and body to be disposed according to the king's pleasure.
The king's pleasure was to have James' head placed on a stake outside the congregation's meeting hall.

In speaking of his beliefs, he acknowledged that he was a baptized believer who accepted the principles in Hebrews 6:1-2 and such doctrines as faith in God, repentance from dead works, baptism, laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment, ending with the affirmation that he owned the Commandments of God, the Ten Commandments as expressed in Exodus 20, and did not dare willingly to break the least of those to save his life. He also declared, "I do own the Lord's holy Sabbath, the seventh day of the week to be the Lord's Sabbath." (Sanford, A Choosing People, 69)

Before being executed, James stated he was prepared to die, denied the charges and asked for God's mercy on the executioner. The hangman, who had not received the expected bribes to reduce James' agonies, had promised to multiply James' torments. So moved was the hangman by John James' speech that he mercifully waited until James died before drawing and quartering him.

Adapted from From Sunday to Sabbath,

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