As Burning Fire Blog

Monday, November 30, 2009

First President of Harvard "Fired" for Baptist Beliefs

"And that is why I refuse to present my child for baptism." With those words of explanation Henry Dunster sealed his fate as president of Harvard.

Henry Dunster was born in 1612 [the actual year was 1609*] in England. He arrived in Boston in 1640 and was given the job of establishing Cambridge College which later became Harvard. He was one of the greatest masters of the Oriental languages in his day. When he arrived in the New World he was a Congregationalist. The arrest of Pastor Clarke, Mr. Crandall, and Mr. Holmes for Baptist beliefs in 1651 challenged him to study the truth of scriptural baptism. The fact that the State clergy refused to answer Pastor Clarke caused many in the New World to wonder why they were afraid of these men. After careful study Henry refused to have his child baptized and thereby set off a controversy. He then stood in the Congregational Church of Cambridge and explained from Scripture his convictions. Henry said that infant baptism "Is not according to the institution of Christ...That there were such corruptions stealing into the Church, which every faithful Christian ought to their witness against." His arguments were so powerful that the pastor of the church was visibly shaken and testified that he was "strangely confused and sickly of spirit." The whole community was in an uproar but nobody came forth with any Biblical arguments. However, that explanation was the beginning of the end of his presidency of Harvard. He was compelled to resign in 1657. After being forced out of his position he moved to Scituate in Plymouth Colony and was driven to a Baptist position by studying the scriptures. He passed away in 1659.

Little did Holmes, Crandall and Pastor Clarke realize their testimonies would bear such fruit! Henry Dunster served with great distinction at Harvard and was only removed because of the bigotry against the Bible. But he stood faithful!

Written by Doug Hammett

Special Note: This month marks the 400th birthday of Henry Dunster.

*The plaque (dedicated in 1993) on Dunster grave has the incorrect year of his birth. The correct year is 1609 (America's Oldest Corporation and First CEO: Harvard and Henry Dunster 2008, pp. 23-25).

Keep following the Baptist Freedom Trail! Next Stop: The Church that Defied Two Laws!



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