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A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity

By author: Richard Groves
Product Code: H429
ISBN: 9780865545748
Product Format: Hardback
Publisher: Mercer University Press
Availability:Not currently available.
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Price: $35.00

The Millenary Petition was present to James I in April 1603 as he was preparing to assume the throne of England. It was called the Millenary Petition because about 1,000 clergy led by the Puritans were said to support it. The Petition called for moderate reforms within the Church of England and the redress of certain grievances, the details to be worked out by a “conference among the learned.” James agreed to such a conference, which was held in January 1604 at Hampton Court Palace. At the Hampton Court Conference the bishops sat on one side, the Puritans on the other, and James presided. While some few concessions were promised by James and the bhisops (minor changes in the Book of Common Prayer and some improvements in the status and living conditions of the clergy), few such promises were actually kept. The one thing that eventually did result from a decision at that Conference was a new translation of the Bible, the Authorized or King James Version. At the Conference the Puritans added to their general petitions a plea to replace the Bible then in use in the churches because it was “a most corrupted translation.” The so-called King James Version appeared only seven years later (1611). Most “corrupt practices” in the government and liturgy of the church, however, received little more than lip service from the king and his bishops. So, following the hapless Hampton Court Conference, little groups of English Christians (“Separatists”) began to break away from the established church. As early as 1606, one group, led by John Smyth, migrated to Holland. Prominent among them was Thomas Helwys. Helwys helped Smyth found the English Independent Church in Amsterdam (1606?). Their “Declaration of Faith” (1611?) included a statement regarding “believer’s baptism,” the beginnings of a people called “Baptists.” In 1611/1612, Helwys and others returned home where they founded at Spitalfield the first General Baptists congregation in England. Helwys had with him a manuscript entitled “A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity” in which he proposed the notion of liberty of conscience, freedom of religion. This may have been the first such declaration in English. Helwys published the manuscript in 1612. That publication probably cost him his freedom, perhaps even his life. In one copy of his book Helwys penned a bold petition to King James not to impose laws upon the consciences of his subjects. “The king,” Helwys said, “is a mortal man, and not God, therefore hath no power over the immortal souls of his subjects, to make laws and ordinances for them, and to set spiritual Lords over them…” By the beginning of the twentieth century, only four known copies of the book survived. In 1935 the British Baptist Historical Society published a facsimile. Today even this facsimile is difficult to come by and, further, difficult to read: it is in 1611/1612 English; the old pages are faded and smeared; the copy difficult to decipher. Now, thanks to the careful works of Richard Groves, Helwys’s “The Mystery of Iniquity” is available in a reader-friendly edition. Grove’s introduction sets the document in context, not only as an important and influential historical event but as shedding yet more light on whence we have come. Students, historians, Christians, Protestants, Baptists—all for whom freedom of conscience is important will welcome this reissue in modern dress of a religious liberty classic.
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