Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Biographical Sketch: Hanserd Knollys

Early Life and Ministry

Hanserd Knollys was born around the year 1598 in the village of Cawkwell in Lincolnshire. He was home-educated and learned Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. When Knollys was 15 years old, his family moved to Scartho, where his father was appointed as rector. Knollys attended Cambridge and was trained under the Puritans. Upon graduation, Knollys was appointed Master of Gainsborough Free School. On June 29, 1629, Knollys was ordained as a deacon in the Church of England. The next day, he was ordained as a presbyter by the Bishop of Peterborough. Shortly afterward, the Bishop of Lincoln appointed Knollys to the local parish at Humberstone. Due to the influence of his Puritan training, Knollys came to see certain practices of the Church of England as unscriptural; namely, the wearing of the surplice (an ornate garment setting the clergy apart from the laity), making the sign of the cross in baptism, and admitting unrepentant people living in various kinds of open sin to the Lord’s Supper. Knollys informed his bishop of his convictions and offered to resign his position, but the bishop asked him to remain at his post, assuring Knollys that he would not be required to conform to any practice against his conscience. Soon, however (in 1631), Knollys did resign due to personal uncertainty over whether he was truly called by God to be a minister (it was also in 1631 that Knollys married Ann Cheney). Knollys spent many weeks in prayer and fasting; he sought counsel from John Wheelwright, a Puritan minister, and concluded that he had been trusting in works rather than in God’s grace for his salvation. Knollys then seized upon the promises of Isaiah 43:22-25 and Isaiah 54:8-9 and was truly converted to faith in Christ. Now assured of God’s calling on his life, Knollys began traveling from village to village preaching the gospel. In 1636 the Court of High Commission gave warrant for Knollys’ arrest, as he was preaching without a specific commission from the Church of England. In 1638, Knollys was imprisoned for unlicensed preaching. Persuading the arresting officer to release him, Knollys fled to Massachusetts with his family, and had to face the tragedy of his child dying on the voyage.

Conversion to Baptist Convictions

Knollys may have begun questioning paedo-baptism during his time in America; the American Puritan Cotton Mather, in his work Magnalia Christi Americana, refers to Knollys as a “godly Anabaptist” from England. An additional fact that seems to support the idea that Knollys began questioning paedo-baptism while he was in America is that the Dover church, where Knollys served as minister, later moved to New Jersey and took the name Piscataway, and became one of the founding churches of the Philadelphia [Baptist] Association. There is, however, no clear evidence that Knollys actually performed believers’ baptism while ministering in America. Knollys returned to England in 1641 at the request of his aging father. This time, Knollys arrived at the end of the voyage safely with his three year old child and his wife, who was expecting their third child. In London, Knollys took a job first as a schoolteacher, and then as a chaplain in the Parliamentary Army. Upon leaving the army, Knollys became involved in the Jacob-Lathrop-Jessey Independent Church, where he took part in the discussions concerning baptism. Knollys may have even been the individual to introduce baptism as a topic for discussion in the JLJ Church when he refused to allow his newborn child to be baptized without clear warrant for infant baptism being demonstrated from Scripture. Eventually, a group convinced that Scripture teaches believers’ baptism left the JLJ Church and constituted as a Particular Baptist church, calling Knollys as their pastor. Knollys was eventually instrumental in persuading Henry Jessey to accept the Baptist position, and he baptized his former pastor on June 29, 1645. Knollys was not one of the original signers of the 1644 London Baptist Confession of Faith, but he did sign the 1646 revision of this confession– he and Benjamin Cox being largely responsible for the changes made to the document. Knollys, along with Benjamin Cox and William Kiffin were at one time scheduled to debate a group of Presbyterians on the subject of baptism; when the debate fell through, the Baptists published their arguments in A Declaration Concerning the Publicke Dispute… Concerning Infant-Baptisme.

Growth in Influence Through Persecution

Knollys had suffered persecution since he first began preaching independent from the Church of England and as a Baptist the persecution only worsened. When he preached at Bow Church, he was arrested and held for several days without bail. Brought before a committee of Parliament that included thirty members of the Westminster Assembly, Knollys was vindicated when an account of his sermon gained such hearty approval of the committee that the examiners threatened the jailer for having ever imprisoned Knollys. Later, while preaching at Suffolk, Knollys was accused of being an Antinomian and an Anabaptist and was stoned out of the pulpit. Again he appeared before a committee of Parliament and, after presenting character witnesses and a published summary of his sermons titled Christ Exalted: A Lost Sinner Sought, and Saved by Christ, the committee ruled that Knollys could preach in any part of Suffolk. As a pastor, Knollys engaged in debates defending Baptist doctrines and he supported missionary efforts within England and to Wales. During the 1640s and 1650s, attendance at the meeting-house on Great St. Helen-street, where Knollys preached, reached about 1000 hearers. Falsely accused of participation in a group promoting rebellion, Knollys was imprisoned for18 weeks under the reign of Charles II. Upon his release, Knollys fled with his family to Europe, spending 3 years in Holland and Germany; all of Knollys’ possessions in England were confiscated. When Knollys returned to England, he was again imprisoned– this time under the 2nd Conventicle Act, which prohibited any religious meetings not sanctioned by the state. In prison, Knollys was allowed to preach twice daily to his fellow prisoners.

Knollys on the Miraculous Gifts

In 1646 the radical Puritan John Saltmarsh wrote a pamphlet titled The Smoke in the Temple. In this book Saltmarsh summarized several leading arguments against the Baptist movement utilized by a group known as the Seekers (though Saltmarsh did not personally identify with the Seekers). Though the Seekers broke away from the Church of England and agreed with many of the Baptist critiques against the Anglicans, they did not believe that the Baptists had warrant to begin new church congregations. Apparently holding to apostolic succession, the Seekers believed that beginning a new church required apostles who could perform miraculous signs. This group remained “Seekers” because no such miraculous signs were being performed. Knollys responded by publishing a book titled The Shining of a Flaming Fire in Zion, in which argued from John 20:29-31 and from Hebrews 2:3-4 that gifts of miraculous signs were given to the apostolic church in order to confirm the message of the Gospel as it first came into the world; such miraculous gifts should not be expected in the church today. (This was the same argument earlier used by the Reformers when the Roman Catholic Church argued that the new congregations they established were illegitimate without apostolic gifts of miracles.) Knollys further argued that the church still enjoys the miraculous elements of the apostolic era through the Scripture and specifically in the experience of regeneration (a person being changed from hating Christ to loving Him is a miracle indeed).

Though Knollys believed that no minister of the church possesses the gift of healing as did the apostles, he did believe that God continues to perform miraculous healings in response to the prayers of His people. After being released from prison in 1670, Knollys was on his deathbed, suffering from a “painful distemper in [his] bowels.” William Kiffin and Vavasor Powell came to him, anointed him with oil, and joined many others in praying for Knollys night and day. After this, Knollys was entirely healed. Later, in 1689, when Benjamin Keach was deathly ill, Knollys went to him and prayed earnestly that God would add 15 years to his life as He had done for King Hezekiah (see Isaiah 38). When he finished praying, Knollys rose and said to Keach, “Brother Keach, I shall be in heaven before you.” Knollys died two years later, in 1691. Keach died in 1704– 15 years after Knollys prayed for him!


In 1671, Knollys' wife of 40 years, Ann, died. Knollys’ love for her and respect for her godliness is evidenced throughout his autobiography. In 1689 the Toleration Act was passed, granting Baptists and other non-conformists religious liberty. Hanserd Knollys and William Kiffin led the way in using this as an opportunity to call for an assembly of Particular Baptists. Representatives of over 100 Baptist churches were in attendance as the assembly decided to endorse the 1677 London Baptist Confession (this Confession afterward became known by the year of its endorsement as the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith). The name Hanserd Knollys heads the list of signers in support of this decision. As mentioned above, Knollys died two years later, in 1691. Knollys’ life is an example of one who is faithful to biblical convictions both in times of persecution and in times of triumph. Knollys was, by all accounts, a faithful minister in his church, who also led his congregation to support both local and foreign missions. Knollys was a leader in both defending Baptist doctrinal distinctives and promoting doctrinally-centered co-operation between Baptist congregations.


Michael A.G. Haykin. Kiffin, Knollys, and Keach. Leeds, England: Reformation Today Trust, 1996.

Thomas J. Nettles, The Baptists, Vol. 1. Ross-shire, Scotland: Mentor, 2005.

Baptist History Homepage

Hanserd Knollys page on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library]



Blogger info said...

Great biographical sketch! I would like to repost this over on I'll give you full credit of course and link back to your blog.

10:21 AM  

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