The Exemplary Courage of Obediah Holmes


In 1651, in Lynn, Massachusetts, Obediah Holmes and several others gathered in a man’s home for a small worship service. Even though European immigrants were fleeing religious persecution by coming to North America, they still brought with them much of the established expectations of Church/state relations. Obediah and his friends were Baptists, and this put them at odds with the established Church. Their worship service was private but it was not secret, and it was illegal.

Not long into their service, constables broke in and arrested three of the men…
That same day the three men were forced to attend a service in the established church of their day. The men quietly protested by keeping their hats upon their heads, but the constables knocked their hats off by force. One of the arrested men attempted to preach to the congregation, and that is when the constables took them away to prison.

When their court date arrived, even though the men capably defended their beliefs and actions, there was merely a reading of the charges and an issuing of their sentence. The three men were ordered to pay a fine or endure a severe beating at the whip-wielding hands of an executioner. 40 lashes were equal to a death sentence, and the men were threatened with 30. People raised money to pay their fines, and one man welcomed the payment immediately.

Pastor John Clarke and Obediah Holmes were led to the whipping post, and on the way there someone forced Clarke’s captors to take payment for his fine. Holmes also received compassion from those who offered to pay his fine, but he refused the payment to be made. He said that payment would be an admission of guilt, and he was not willing to admit wrongdoing of any kind.

Having his shirt removed and being tied to the post, Holmes exhorted the onlookers to cling to Christ and remain true to Him and to His Word in the face of any opposition. The flogger stopped 3 times during the beating to rest his arm for a moment and regain a better grip for maximum force. Holmes’ was beaten mercilessly, and yet he found strength to audibly thank God for being with him in his suffering as well as ask that God not lay the sin of such a scourging upon the ones inflicting it.

When all was done, Holmes’ body was a mess, but his spirit was unbroken. As he was being untied from the bloody post, he said to the magistrates, “You have beaten me as with roses.”

Holmes’ display of obedient subversion (neither weakening in his convictions, nor rallying anyone to mutiny) was an exemplary call to live as a Christian witness under the authority which God has delegated. We are not revolutionaries; we are ambassadors of the true and rightful King.