The Collected Works of Hanserd Knollys

Early English Baptist Texts

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William L. Pitts, Jr., Rady Roldán-Figueroa
  • Macon, GA: 
    Mercer University Press
    , April
     276 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


The Collected Works of Hanserd Knollys is the first of seven volumes in the Early English Baptist Texts series. The series seeks to make accessible primary texts from leading seventeenth-century English Baptist figures. By returning to the original texts of the Baptist faith, the aim is to retrieve essential ideals that can be appropriated for use by modern Baptists in a post-Christendom society. This first volume is organized into three parts. The first entails a biographical overview of Hansard Knollys’s life and works. The second and largest section reproduces the major written works of Knollys. These works include pamphlets and theological treatises as well as an autobiographical account. The final part concludes the volume by providing a scholarly account of the historiographical research surrounding Knollys.

The editor’s leading objective in producing this series is to retrieve past answers to modern questions. An early example of this can be found in the introduction, where the editors connect Knollys’s personal interest in apocalyptic millennial writings with 21st century theological interest in millennialism. Similarly, another lesson to be learned by modern Baptists from the life of Hanserd Knollys relates to his ability to maintain his Baptist sentiments while finding common interest on matters concerning political and economic equality with those who held diverse views, including Quakers, Antinomians, and the Fifth Monarchy Men.

Hanserd Knollys (1598-1691) was raised in the Church of England and attended St. Catherine’s College, Cambridge. However, in 1645 he declared his Baptist beliefs and joined the historical Jacob-Lathrop-Jessey congregation. Knollys actually baptized Reverend Henry Jessey. Knollys served his own London congregation as a bi-vocational minister. For the entirety of his life, in the midst of persecution and exile, Knollys provided for his family as an educator. His most noteworthy companion was William Kiffin. Both men served as signatories on the 1664 London Confession of Faith, in addition to numerous later documents that helped further the Baptist tradition. Due to persecution, Knollys spent time in New England, Germany, and the Netherlands. By the end of his life, Knollys was blessed to attend the first general meeting of the Baptists. He was able to see the fruits of his labor realized.

Concerning the writings of Knollys, eight works are included in this volume. Each work includes an introduction. The original texts have been edited into modern English and contain extensive annotations. Only Knollys’s works written after his adherence to the Baptist faith are included; if he wrote anything prior to this time it is not indicated. The earliest work, his 1645 “A Modern Answer,” contains a defense of congregational polity against the Presbyterian John Bastwick. Knollys often misquoted or did not cite his sources; the editors have corrected this by including the original quotations at length and identifying unnamed sources. In the same year, Knollys joined Kiffin and Benjamin Coxe in penning, “A Declaration Concerning the Public Dispute,” which outlined their views concerning believer’s baptism. A theme that the editors return to throughout this volume is the logical structuring of Knollys’s writing. During Knollys’s exile to the Netherlands, he came in contact with the governess Katherine Sutton, and later wrote the “Preface” to her biographical account and hymns. By 1675, Knollys entered into another baptism debate by writing “The Baptists Answer to Mr. Obed. Wills”. This address was written in the midst of a pamphlet war between Obadiah Wills and Henry Danvers concerning paedobaptism (infant baptism).

In “Mystical Babylon Availed,” Knollys identifies the Roman Catholic papacy as the beast of Revelation 17. The editorial emphasis on ecumenism and learning from the past is still present at this later point in the text when the editors encourage the reader to understand the historical context of the work, so as not to interpolate their own present ecumenism. This work also contains the largest amount of notation, due to Knollys’s original marginal notes. Again, the editors provide a service to the scholarly field by extensively citing the references in their original language along with explanatory commentary.

“An Answer to a Brief Discourse Concerning Singing” was written during the hymn singing debate that was spearheaded by Benjamin Keach in favor of song and Isaac Marlow in opposition. Knollys spends the majority of the text appealing to scripture in favor of singing. “The Life and Death of the Old Disciple of Jesus Christ” consists of Knollys’s autobiography up until an abrupt end in 1672. William Kiffin provided an epilogue to the text which offers a summary of the remaining two decades of Knollys’s life. “Mr. Knollys’ Last Legacy to the Church, Written a little before his Death” was written prior to his death as a final address to his London congregation. It appeared in a 1692 publication, but has been published separately in the present collection.

As the first volume in a collection of seven, The Collected Works of Hanserd Knollys sets the standard of expectations for the remaining works in the Early English Baptist Texts series. The biographical overview sets the tone for the volume by providing a sweeping overview of the individual under consideration. Then, the collected works make rare texts accessible for modern scholarship. The in-depth citations serve to support each text and further scholarship in the field. Finally, the historiographical conclusion traces a timeline from the individual to the present.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Jordann Allan is a graduate student in church history at Gordon-Conwell Theoogical Seminary.

Date of Review: 
September 26, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

William L. Pitts, Jr. is a professor of Church History in the Religion department at Baylor University. He is a graduate of Vanderbilt University (MDiv and PhD). Pitts has published in the areas of Baptist history and identity, historiography, spirituality, new religious movements, Christian missions, and women’s leadership roles in American religion.

Rady Roldán-Figueroa is director of research and associate professor of the History of Christianity at Boston University’s School of Theology. He is a graduate of New Brunswick Theological Seminary (MDiv) and Boston University (ThD). Roldán-Figueroa specializes in early-modern global Christianity, global Catholicism, and the history of Christian spirituality.


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