In 1651, Obadiah Holmes, a Baptist, was arrested for preaching the gospel in Lynn, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. The area was strongly Puritan at the time, and Baptist doctrines were forbidden. When an offer of release was made, pending his paying a fine, Obadiah refused on principle. Friends tried to pay it for him, but he wouldn’t let them. His punishment was decreed by authorities. He would be whipped.
On September 6, 1651, he was taken to Boston Commons and commanded to strip to the waist. He was then tied to a whipping post, which became his pulpit. He later wrote: As the man began to lay the strokes upon my back, I said to the people, Though my flesh should fail, yet God would not fail. So it pleased the Lord to come in and fill my heart and tongue, and with an audible voice I broke forth praying unto the Lord not to lay this sin to their charge.
In truth, as the strokes fell upon me, I had such a manifestation of God’s presence as the like thereof I never had nor felt, nor can with fleshy tongue express, and the outward pain was so removed from me, that indeed I am not able to declare it to you. It was so easy to me that I could well bear it, yea and in a manner felt it not although it was grievous, the man striking with all his strength (spitting on his hands three times as many affirmed) with a three corded whip, giving me therewith thirty strokes. When he loosed me from the post, having joyfulness in my heart and cheerfulness in my countenance, I told the magistrates, “You have struck me with roses.”
If so, they were covered with thorns. The whipping was so severe that blood ran down Holmes’ body until his shoes overflowed. A friend reported: “Holmes was whipt thirty stripes in such an unmerciful manner that in many days, if not some weeks, he could take no rest, but lay on knees and elbows, not being able to suffer any part of his body to touch the bed.”
But the suffering wasn’t wasted. The trial and whipping of Obadiah Holmes occasioned the conversion of Henry Dunster, president of Harvard University, to the Baptists, and led to the organization of Boston’s first Baptist church.
More Real Stories for the Soul, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000), 31.