No Armor for the Back: Baptist Prison Writings, 1600s-1700s

Article excerpt

No Armor for the Back: Baptist Prison Writings, 1600s-1700s. By Keith E. Durso. (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press. 2007. Pp. xii, 292. $23-00 paperback. ISBN 978-0-881-46096-4.)

Baptists began as a people of dissent, grounded in the concept of a Believers' Church and the role of conscience in discerning religious faith and practice. Their idea that faith must be uncoerced by state or established church set them at odds with establishmentarian governments in England and New England from the beginning of the movement in 1609- Baptist historians have given significant attention to the nature of dissent and the role of Baptists in shaping freedom of religion in church and state. Few, if any, have brought together the collective stories of prominent and lesser-known Baptist dissenters in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Historian Keith E. Durso has done just that, in a fine volume that surveys the nature of Baptist dissent and the response of various establishmentarian communities to Baptist ideals and individuals. Durso brings together multiple primary sources from or about the dissenters themselves. His work surveys the nature of the persecution and the response of the Baptists to such harassment. The materials indicate that much of the Baptist response to religious establishments was not simply about conscience but also about class. The seventeenth-century Baptist John Murtón demanded that the church be composed only of believers, those who could testify to a work of grace in their hearts (the central tenet of a Believers' Church), and insisted that, in Durso 's words, "the Holy Spirit is not the possession of a select minority of educated ministers" (p. 37). Indeed, Murtón himself wrote that "'the Spirit bloweth where it listeth' (John 3:8), and is not tied to the learned" (p. 37).

Durso's work also demonstrates something of the fluidity of individuals who participated in multiple dissenting movements of the seventeenth century. So many sectarian movements appeared during this time that it was inevitable that individuals would be impacted by multiple ideologies. …