Little is known about Helwys' early life. Raised on a Nottinghamshire estate which had been in his family for generations, he received a good education at Gray's Inn. His home was a haven for early dissenters. When he was introduced to John Smyth, he joined the Gainsborough Separatist congregation.
A small group led by Helwys returned from Holland in late 1612 and established themselves as Spitalfields near London. He wrote an appeal to King James I, entitled "The Mystery of Iniquity", calling upon the monarch not to impose laws against the consciences of his subjects, for "the King is a mortal man and not God, therefore hath no power over the mortal soul of his subjects to make laws and ordinances for then and to set spiritual Lords over them." For this, Helwys was thrown in Newgate prison, dying there by 1616.
Among the themes of Helwys' book: "The Importance of Believer's Baptism", "The Need for the Church of Jesus Christ to Live from Voluntary Support of its Members", "The Absurdity of Coerced Uniformity in Worship Practices", "The Legitimacy of the State and the Role of the Magistrates", "An Advertisement or Admonition Unto the Congregation Which We Call the New Fryelers in the Lowe Countries" and "Christ as the Sole King of the Church". In support of local congregational church government, Helwys urged King James I to "freely restore at once to the church and house of God the whole glorious power of Christ" so that the church could elect its own officers according to the leadership of the Holy Spirit.
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