Hanserd Knollys was a native of Chalkwell, in Lincolnshire. While pursuing his studies at the University of Cambridge, he experienced a change of heart, having become acquainted with "several gracious Christians, then called Puritans," whose conversation was blessed to him. In 1629 he was ordained by the Bishop of Peterborough. At Humberstone, where he lived several years, he was accustomed to preach three and even four times on the Lord's-day, besides sermons on saints' days and at funerals. But scruples and doubts agitated his mind. At length he reached the conviction that his position in the Church of England was not in accordance with the New Testament, and he renounced his ordination, resolving not to preach any more till he had "received a clear call and commission from Christ to preach the Gospel."
During his silence he underwent much mental distress, which was removed by the instrumentality of Mr. Wheelwright, one of the Puritan ministers. He then recommenced preaching. "I began to preach the doctrine of free grace, according to the tenor of the new and everlasting Covenant, for three or four years together, whereby very many sinners were converted, and many believers were established in the faith."
The persecution was so fierce that he joined the emigrants who were at that time flocking to New England, and arrived at Boston in the spring of 1638. He was not allowed to remain there, the ministers having unaccountably judged him to be an Antinomian, and desired the magistrates to send him away. But he found a home at Dover, on the Piscataqua, where he preached with much acceptance upwards of three years. Cotton Mather, having referred to "ministers from other parts of the world," who had arrived in New England, says: � "Of these there were some godly Anabaptists, as namely, Mr. Hanserd Knollys (whom one of his adversaries called Absurd Knowless), of Dover, and Mr. Miles of Swansley. Both of these have a respectful character in the churches of this wilderness."1 It is observable that Mr. Knollys' arrival was in the spring of 1638. Roger Williams' baptism did not take place till the winter of that year.
Mr. Knollys returned to England about the close of 1641. He settled in London, where he gained his livelihood by teaching a school. His next employment was that of chaplain in the Parliamentary army. When he left the army he established himself again in London as a schoolmaster, and preached in the churches as he found opportunity. His labours were very acceptable to the people, but were so disapproved of by the Assembly of Divines, because he preached against national churches, that he withdrew from connection with them, and opened a meeting-house in Great St. Helen-street, where he commonly had a congregation of a thousand hearers. A Baptist church was formed there, over which he was ordained pastor in 1645. He held that office till his death, in 1691, though he was often prevented, by the operation of unjust laws, from fulfilling its duties. On several occasions he found it necessary to retire into the country for a while, and during the hottest period of the persecution he left England, and lived two or three years in Germany and Holland. He had his share also of "bonds and imprisonments." But God graciously sustained him. His religious enjoyments abounded, and his labours were eminently successful.
"My wilderness, sea, city, and prison mercies," he observes, "afforded me very many and strong consolations. The spiritual sights of the glory of God, the divine sweetness of the spiritual and providential presence of my Lord Jesus Christ, and the joys and comforts of the holy and eternal Spirit, communicated to my soul, together with suitable and seasonable Scriptures of truth, have so often and so powerfully revived, refreshed, and strengthened my heart in the days of my pilgrimage, trials, and sufferings, that the sense, � yea the life and sweetness thereof, � abides still upon my heart, and hath engaged my soul to live by faith, to walk humbly, and to desire and endeavour to excel in holiness to God's glory and the example of others. Though, I confess, many of the Lord�s ministers and some of the Lord's people have excelled and outshined me, with whom God hath not been at so much cost, nor pains, as He hath been at with me. I am a very unprofitable servant, but yet by grace I am what I am."
Mr. Knollys gives the following account of his recovery from a dangerous illness. We shall copy it without comment: �"Two learned, well-practiced, and judicious doctors of physic had daily visited me, and consulted several days together, and I was fully persuaded that they did what they possibly could to effect a cure, and knew also that God did not succeed their honest and faithful endeavors with His blessing. Although God had given a signal and singular testimony of His special blessing by each of them unto other of their patients, at least sixteen, at the same time, I resolved to take no more physic, but would apply to that holy ordinance of God, appointed by Jesus Christ, the great Physician of value, in James 5:14, 15: � 'Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him:' � and I sent for Mr. Kiffin and Mr. Vavasor Powell, who prayed over me, and anointed me with oil in the name of the Lord. The Lord did hear prayer, and heal me; for there were many godly ministers and gracious saints that prayed day and night for me (with submission to the will of God), that the Lord would spare my life, and make me more serviceable to His Church, and to His saints, whose prayers God heard; and as an answer to their prayers I was perfectly healed, but remained weak long after." As the poverty of the church prevented them from providing adequately for his support, Mr. Knollys continued in his employment as a schoolmaster almost to the close of life. His efforts were so successful that he realized considerable property. Reviewing his history some time after his wife's death (which took place in 1671), he says: � "To my eldest son I had given sixty pounds per annum during life, which he enjoyed about twenty-one years ere he died. To my next son that lived to be married I gave the full value of two hundred and fifty pounds in money, house, school, and household goods, and left him fifty scholars in the school-house. To my only daughter then living I gave upon her marriage, above three hundred pounds in money, annuity, plate, linen, and household stuffs, and left her husband fifty scholars in the said school-house, in partnership with my said son. To my youngest son that lived to be married I gave more than three hundred pounds sterling; besides, it cost me sixty pounds in his apprenticeship, and forty pounds afterwards. Thus my Heavenly Father made up my former losses with His future blessings, even in outward substance, besides a good increase of grace and experience, in the space of the forty years that I and my dear faithful wife lived together. We removed several times, with our whole family; whereof, once from Lincolnshire to London, and from London to New England; once from England into Wales, twice from London into Lincolnshire; once from London to Holland, and from thence into Germany, and thence to Rotterdam, and thence to London again. In which removings I gained great experiences of God's faithfulness, goodness and truth, in His great and precious promises; and I have gained some experience of my own heart's deceitfulness and the power of my own corruptions, and the reigning power of Christ, and His captivating and subduing my sins � making conquests of the devil, world, and sin, and then giving me the victory, and canting me to triumph, and to bless His holy name . . . . I would not want those experiences and teachings that my soul hath enjoyed for all that I ever suffered."
Among the works published by Mr. Knollys was a Grammar of the Latin, Greek, and Hebrew languages. It was written in Latin.2
Mr. Knollys died September 19th, 1691. He was in the ninety-third year of his age. The "Hanserd Knollys Society," founded in the year 1845, for the republication of the works of early Baptist authors, was named after him.
Knollys, Keach, and Kiffin might be called "the first three" among the Baptist ministers of those days. Their talents and characters gave them influence, which appears to have been wisely exerted for the benefit of the denomination. They were honored while living, and their "memory is blessed." __________________
1 Cotton Mather, Magnalia, book iii, p. 243 (Ed. 1855).
2 Joseph Ivimey, A History of the English Baptists, ii, pp. 347-359.
[From J. M. Cramp, Baptist History, 1871 ed.; rpt. 1987, pp. 381-387. - Jim Duvall]
An Exposition on the Book of Revelation
By Hanserd Knollys, 1698
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