Hanserd Knollys was born in Chalkwell, Lincolnshire, England, in 1598. His parents took his education very seriously, both in religious instruction as well as the best in academics.
He went to Katherine Hall in Cambridge and graduated. He took the educational opportunity very seriously by praying daily, listening to all the godly ministers possible, and reading and searching the Holy Scriptures. It was there he became acquainted with the Puritans.
In June, 1629, he was ordained by the Anglicans, and given a living at Humberstone, by the Bishop of Lincoln. He not only preached at his own parish church, but in many others, and several times a day. He would preach at Holton at 7 in the morning, Humberstone at 9, Seartha at 11, and Humberstone again at 3.
In 1630, he was called to the bedside of an elderly woman who was dying, in his church at Humberstone. It was the agreed consensus of the doctor, friends and relatives that the woman would die soon, so Rev. Knollys left and began writing her funeral sermon. As he wrote, his faith was tested, and he challenged the devil that the Scriptures were in fact true, and that if he would ask the Lord, the lady’s life would be spared. To silence the doubts and fears that were generated, he at once returned to the lady’s bedside and prayed for her, and that her life and health would be restored. Within the hour the lady declared she was healed and restored to health! Knollys knew that God had done it to prove His word true and to silence the doubts of Satan. From that point onward, Knollys never doubted the Scriptures.
All this preaching, however, did not yield one convert. He became convinced that there were many things in the Anglican Church that did not have Scriptural support. So, he resigned his parish church, and then a couple years later, in 1636, resigned from membership in the Anglican Church. In particular, he refused to use the sign of the cross in baptism or admit wicked people to the Lord’s Supper.
This brought about his arrest, but he escaped, but in waiting for a ship to get to America, exhausted his savings. His wife however, was able to get some money for passage, and they sailed to Massachusetts. The long waits, however, made their provisions unfit for use.
He finally arrived in Boston in 1638. He was falsely accused as being against God’s law, so had to earn a living hoeing, not being allowed to preach. He then went to Dover, New Hampshire, and preached as a Baptist, taking on another preacher there in defense of Baptist doctrine. The town became part of Massachusetts, and the church moved to Long Island in 1641 to escape persecution.
At the same time (1641), Rev. Knollys’ elderly father summoned him to England. Once in England he immediately began preaching in churches for the Baptist cause, and so was frequently in trouble with the government. He also suffered the attempts of groups of people that would gather to stone.
He set up a separate meeting house in Great St. Helen’s of London. People thronged his meetings, and there were usually a thousand people in attendance. Unlike his work for the Anglicans, he saw many conversions at each service. Because of these illegal meetings, he was summoned by “The Westminster Assembly of Divines” and ordered to stop preaching. He replied he would preach the gospel publicly and from house to house.”
In 1645 he was ordained pastor of the Baptist church he had in London. He held this position till he died. He was very popular as a preacher, and very effective at defending the faith, and leading souls to Christ.
In June 1645, Pastor Knollys baptized another great Baptist pastor in the area, Rev. Henry Jessey. Together they forged a powerful alliance in the work of the Lord. Rev. Jessey also became of the “Triers” appointed by William Cromwell to examine the candidates for ministry in the State Church. The Triers were able to drive from the pulpits those were of questionable character and ignorant.
In 1647, he was arrested, and held without bail in jail for several days, until brought before the committee to examine him. The committee wanted to know about his ordination, and he explained he was ordained a priest in the State church, and that he had renounced his ordination, and instead was a minister by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. He preached at his own church and building because he had repeatedly refused to follow the instructions of the church wardens. They then asked him to enter the pulpit and preach to them. He did so, preaching to the 30 “divines” from Isaiah 58 (a passage about the importance of preaching to people, exposing their sins, and worthless endeavors), leaving the men without any questions or challenges. In fact they said nothing and instead called the jailer, threatening to evict him for holding him as a prisoner for so long. So Pastor Knollys left without having to pay the fines or with blame brought against him.
But soon after his release, he was brought before another committee, for causing great disturbances to ministers and people in Suffolk. He was stoned out of the pulpit and prosecuted in private sessions, and taken 60 miles from London, where he had to bring witnesses to testify of his good repute and credit. He was able to satisfy that tribunal, and it was recorded that both he and Pastor Kiffin were allowed to preach in Suffolk.
He was constantly imprisoned for breaking religious laws, and even when 84 spent six months in jail, refusing to use his friendship with very influential people to gain his release.
He was very serious about education, and published Hebrew, Greek and Latin grammars. He also published an exposition of the Book of Revelation. In all he authored and published eleven books. He even wrote the introduction to a collection of hymns by Katherine Sutton in 1663, entitled: A Christian Woman’s Experiences of the Glorious Working of God’s Free Grace. In providing the introduction, he demonstrated his support of “spiritual songs” and singing among God’s people.
The pastor’s spiritual life was remarkable. There are many specific examples to the answered prayers fo this great preacher.
In 1670, he developed severe sharp pain in his bowels, and almost died. Two doctors tried to offer help, but were not effective. To obey James 5:14-15, Pastor Knollys called for William Kiffin and Vavosor Powell to pray over him and anoint him with oil. The Lord heard and answered, enabling Pastor Knollys to continue preaching for another 21 years!
In 1689, a fellow pastor, Benjamin Keach (1640-1704) became gravely ill. Pastor Knollys visited him and began earnest prayer on his behalf, begging that God would not only spare him, but add the 15 years of Hezekiah to his life. As soon as he ended his prayer, he arose and told Pastor Keach that he was going to reach heaven before Keach did, and then left. Pastor Knollys died two years later, but Pastor Keach lived on the 15 years as requested!
He died on Sept. 19, 1691, in London, at 96 years of age, and with wide influence in both America and England.
“The Gallery—Leaders, Evangelists, Thinkers, and Movers in Baptist History.” Christian History Magazine: The Baptists (Worcester, PA: Christian History Institute, 1985). Issue 6.
William Cathcart, The Baptist Encyclopedia, pp. 599, 664-666. Expert reprinted with artwork by Roger William Heritage Archives Editors, Baptist Biographies (Roger Williams Heritage Archives, 2003; 2003). Processing and coloring of artwork by Pastor Clinton Macomber, Sep. 2010.
J.J. Goadby, Bye-Paths in Baptist History (Roger Williams Heritage Archives, 1871; 2003), p. 90, 295.
Michael A.G. Haykin, “Hanserd Knollys (ca 1599-1691) on the Gifts of the Spirit.” Westminster Theological Journal (Philadelphia: Westminster Theological Seminary, 1992), vol. 54, no. 1, pp. 97-113.
Henry Melville King, Rev. John Myles and the Founding of the First Baptist Church in Massachusetts (Roger Williams Heritage Archives, 1905; 2003), pp. 77-80.
Paul A. Richardson, “Baptist Contributions to Hymnody and Hymnology.” Review and Expositor (Louisville, KY: Review and Expositor, 1990), Vol. 87, No. 1, p. 60.