When, in former times, C. Vermander, one of our fellow believers, desirous of describing the Trojan war, followed the Greek poet Homer, called the Blind, relating in Dutch rhyme, the latter's Greek verses treating of this matter, he stopped when he had completed half, that is, the first twelve books of the Iliad,* writing these words, "When following the blind in Il'um's siege,
I wearied when but half the way I'd reached."
He became weary when he had traveled half the way, and certainly, he had good reasons for it; for, who knows not, that by following a blind man, especially on unknown and dangerous roads, one may easily be brought into error, yea, severe misfortunes? And what peaceful and loving person will delight in contemplating severe wars, and terrible storms and assaults, made upon a straitened and much distressed city, like Troy (called Ilium) was in Homer's time? Hence it was proper, and not less profitable for his soul, that he returned, for, as the proverb says,"It is better to turn back in the middle of the way, than to err still further."
But we, much beloved, having come half the way, yea, through fifteen bloody centuries, became only the more desirous to proceed, so insatiable was our desire, from what we had already seen and heard. Yea, what is still more, though we ourselves suffered much heat and cold, hardship and illness; yea, deadly sicknesses,** on the way, our desire was not quenched, but much rather spurred on and stirred up, to reach the end. For, truly, those whom we met here, were no Greek warriors, who had enlisted under the hero Agamemnon, or his general Hector. Nor were the storms and assaults which we beheld, made upon a city built with hands, much less upon the city of Ilium in Phrygia. Nor did the conquerors burn pitch-barrels, in token of victory. Neither did the heroes who had acquitted themselves well, and faithfully risked their lives, to obtain fading oak leaves, or laurel wreaths, as marks of honor. Or, if they had died, their graves were not ornamented with tombs, pyramids, or obelisks, which must eventually perish with the world.
The place which they stormed, was the city filled with all good things, or the new and heavenly Jerusalem, whose foundations are all manner of precious stones, the gates of pearls, the streets of gold, like transparent glass. Her they took by force, to possess forever; but the God-displeasing idolatrous city of Babel they destroyed, with spiritual weapons, as much as lay in their power.
The honor which they obtained for their victory, is an everlasting honor; their joy a perpetual joy; the triumphal crowns which were given them, are eternal and heavenly crowns. Here no earthly tombs, pyramids, or obelisks, need be mentioned, to honor their dead bodies; since their souls were honored with God, and obtained rest under the altar** of God, the place of all the blessed martyrs.
In our thoughts we have wandered through the places where all this has happened, and with the eyes of faith have beheld these things.
It is true, the sorrow which we, according to the flesh have met with, was almost insurmountable, seeing so many miserable, and not less God-fearing, persons laid down their lives for the truth confessed; these in the burning fire, those in the drowning water, others under the keen sword, some in the strangling rope, yea, in the most destructive teeth of wild beasts; not to mention countless other means by which they miserably perished.
But, on the other hand, the joy which we have seen with our spiritual eyes, and heard with the ears of the heart cannot be told, yea, can be described by no language. For, some embraced death, singing and praising God, and what is still more, who can comprehend this? he who was himself subjected to the death by fire, laid his hand upon the heads of his half-burnt fellow brethren, encouraging them, and strengthening them in the faith. Another, who had tasted the pain of the fire, and had been drawn out of it, threw herself
upon one of the dreadfully charred bodies, in order to finish the conflict once begun, and also to obtain the crown of martyrdom.*
This we relate over and above what we have noticed in the first book, although the persons are also there spoken of. We could adduce many such and similar examples, were they not sufficiently known, yea, as clear as the sun.
We therefore proceed to the second Book, and will commence with the beginning of the sixteenth century, where we, as previously, will treat first of Holy Baptism, etc., and then of the Holy Martyrs who suffered in those times.
However, our labor will be greatly lessened here (like one who, panting and perspiring, has climbed a steep mountain, and then leisurely
descends, taking his ease), since, as far as the martyrs are concerned, the previous accounts and printed copies will serve our purpose; in which we do not propose to make any essential change, for we do not wish to diminish the good work of our dear fellow brethren who, in this matter, havje acted in a holy manner before the Lord, except where it may be necessary because of some account which we have added thereto.
At the same time we hope to enrich these accounts with various pious witnesses of Jesus, from faithful memoirs and written records, which were never before made public; as also their examinations, death sentences, letters, and other things connected with this matter; which we have obtained for this purpose from the hands of magistrates. criminal authorities, criminal clerks and other sources, at no small trouble and expense.
This, then, shall be the order of the following work, which we wish may be acceptable to God, edifying to our neighbor and conducive to the profit and salvation of our own soul through Jesus Christ, our only and eternal Saviour, praised and blessed forever. Amen.
Yours, most affectionately in the Lord,
THIELEM J. VAN BRAGHT.
Dort, A. D. 1659.
In this our address we shall present to you nothing new or uncommon, but -that which in former times a certain lover of the holy and blessed martyrs communicated to his contemporaries, for general edification, concerning the faith and steadfast death of many of them; except a few, passages in the beginning, and also a little -further on (which do not properly belong here; and to which we have affixed certain marks to prevent mistakes.) These we have omitted here, and added, in brackets, something of our own, concerning which we stand ready to give an answer if required.
Having concluded a certain censure concerning those of Horn, the above writer speaks thus of the immovable confidence of the pious confessors of Jesus Christ, "We are fully confident that all these witnesses were unanimous in regard to the -essential articles of faith; they all believed .in the one eternal, true God, the Father, and in His only Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. They all had respect to the sacrifice of the unspotted Lamb, in whom the Father had placed the reconciliation of our sins. They committed, yea, by the covenant of baptism, obligated themselves to serve this Lord, whom the Father had ordained as their teacher and lawgiver. They waited for the blessed resurrection and glorious recompense promised to all those who, through the grace of the Spirit, in the race of the Christian vocation, earnestly and steadfastly run for the prize set before them. They certainly, which is the most important, showed by their deeds, that they had not only a lip faith, and literal knowledge, which is found only in the brains of men, but an effectual and true faith, which, dwelling also in the heart and mind, is inspired by love, and through which they, according to the example of the saints, conquered all things."
Proceeding to the sufferings of the martyrs, he says:, "Contemplate the suffering which these pious martyrs endured, and how wonderfully God wrought with them; how manfully, constantly and patiently they fought, through the effective and ardent love of God, confirming the truth of what is said in Cant. 8:6, namely, that 'Love is strong as death, and jealousy cruel as the grave.' For, here you see as in a mirror, that neither conjugal longing and love, nor parental affection and solicitude, nor the desirable company of near and confiding friends, nor anything which God has put into His creatures, for the delight of man, could move or restrain these heroes; but that they, contemning all this, an(: separating from wife, children, rela ives and friends, house and property, they gave themselves up to severe bonds and imprisonment, to every adversity and hardship, to cruel tortures and martyrdom, undaunted by the threats of the most awful death on the one hand, and unmoved by the many fair promises, to forsake the wholesome truth, the love of God, and the blessed hope on the other; so that they could freely say with the holy apostle Paul: 'Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?' Romans 8:35. But they found and showed it to be true that according to the testimony of the apostle, neither death, nor life, nor things present, nor things to come, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus. Verses 38 and 39. Through this love they overcame all things, and performed glorious deeds beyond the power of man. Weak women exhibited more than manly strength. Maidens and young men in the bloom of youth were enabled, by the help of God, to despise the alluring world, with all her fair and great promises; and these young and tender branches, by faith and patience, conquered the mighty of this world; the simple and unlearned confounded the sage doctors; so that these, silenced frequently through the truth, disputed with threats of fire and sword, and, though in vain, defended themselves thereby; manifesting in this manner their impotence and malice. Christ strikingly fulfilled in them the promise made to His disciples, Matt. 10:19, namely, that He would give unto them what they should speak in that hour when they should be brought before kings and governors. In sight of scaffolds and wheels, of fire and sword, they fearlessly confessed the truth, so that the judges and inquisitors were sometimes astonished, sometimes confounded, and sometimes enraged and startled. Of this boldness, the martyrs themselves boasted in their letters, thanking God, for, knowing their own weakness, they experienced the strength of God in the cross, so that they could take upon themselves with a composed yea, with a joyful mind, that from which human nature beyond measure seemed to recoil and flee. Yea, they were filled with such an exuberant and great joy, begotten in them through the unhindered contemplation of the heavenly glory in faith and hope, that they would have preferred no royal banquet to this parting feast.
They were endowed with such strength that even cruel and inhuman torture could not extort from them the names of their fellow brethren, so that, filled with divine and brotherly love, they sacrificed their bodies for their fellow believers. The brother-
hood in general was thereby so enkindled with zeal and love, that each, despising the earthly and regarding the heavenly, prepared his heart for the sufferings to which his brethren were subjected, and by which he himself was daily threatened. They shunned no danger, in the way of sheltering their fellow believers, visiting them in prison, calling boldly to them in the place of execution, and comforting and strengthening them with words of Scripture. The tyrants found themselves deceived in their design; they thought they could cause these Christians to apostatize; they put them into assurance of their salvation; they supposed they could destroy and extirpate those who opposed them, but, on the contrary, they raised up more opponents; for many of the spectators, at the said spectacle of killing people, who were harmless and of good name and report, yea, who would rather die than do ought by which they supposed to offend God, were thereby brought to reflection, and thus to investigation, and ultimately to conversion.
Besides these noble examples of love, patience and constancy, we find in their writings many devout lessons, edifying teachings and comforting admonitions, written in dark prisons, hurried and negligently indeed, and on account of inconvenience and with poor materials, but sealed with the most glorious mark, their own blood. Then the words have power and weight, when their truth is confirmed and attested by the deed. Seneca, in his epistles, censures philosophizing with words, and not with life, as something shameful. Here you find words which devotion has penned, which the pressure of suffering has extorted from the inmost of the heart; words which have not been warped or bent by worldly considerations or carnal passions; but which were sincerely and unfeignedly spoken to their friends, at the end of life, as a last will, and confirmed with death. Husbands in tribulation consoled their wives, admonished them to godliness, and incited them to steadfastness. Parents gave useful instructions to their children, presented to them the changeableness, vanity and perishableness of visible things; they taught, counseled and commanded them to forsake the world and the lusts thereof, and to cleave to and alone serve God, the supreme and only good. You perceive here how they were sometimes assaulted with many temptations and enticements, not only of wicked men, but of the devil; how the enemy of souls, bringing them upon the pinnacle of the temple, as it were, showed them the splendor and glory of this world, in order to entice them to worship this; Matt. 4:5, 8. How he sometimes, with the terror of impending suffering, assailed the soul with fearfulness, and how, by false imaginations, he endeavored to bring the minds to apostasy, despondency and despair; which these pious heroes, arming themselves with watching and constant prayer to God, valiantly overcame, fighting manfully through all temptations, promises and threats, even unto death, and gaining the victory. Now, even as the reading of, and meditating upon, the pious fathers, is very profitable in every case, so these persons stand as instructive and consoling examples, for all who are visited with crosses and temptations: Here manifest themselves shining beacons.of living faith, of sure hope, and ardent love. Here is seen the positiveness of God's promises, in fearless and joyful hearts, in the midst of suffering. Matt. 10:.19. Here is the steadfastness of the saints, whom Christ crowns with salvation. Matt. 24:13. It is true, by the worldlyminded they are accounted as filth and offscouring (I Cor. 4:13), and their actions stigmatized as sheer folly and madness; but they comfort themselves in God, and rely on His promises. They have learned that the cross must thus be taken up, if one would be worthy of Christ. Matt. 10:38. They know that they are strangers and pilgrims in this world, I Pet. 2:11, and remember the words of their Master, who says, "If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, therefore the world hateth you" (John 15:19) . They are confident that if they lose their life here, they shall find it again hereafter. Matt. 10:39. They believe that we must confess the name of Christ, if we would have Him confess us before His heavenly Father. Matt. 10:32. They know that their Lord and Master suffered Himself, leaving us an example that we should follow His steps; who was thus minded, that when He was reviled, He reviled not again, and when He suffered, threatened not, but prayed for His enemies. I Peter 2:21, 23. They hold that if they would reign with Christ, they must here suffer with Him. II Tim. 2:12. They are mindful of the words of Christ, that the servant is notgreater than his master, Matt. 10:24, and that therefore, as Christ suffered, they must arm themselves with the sane mind. I Peter 4:1. They know themselves to be defenseless sheep, a prey to the devouring wolves. But they do not fear them, who can kill only the body, but Him who holds body and soul in His hand. Matt. 10:28. They learned long ago that all that will live godly shall suffer persecution. II Tim. 3:12. Christ foretold them that they should be hated of all men for His name's sake, yea, should be delivered into tribulation, and be killed; and what is still more, that those killing them should think that they do God service. Hence, they think it not strange when they are tried by suffering; but rejoice that they are partakers of the . sufferings of Christ, knowing that, when His glory shall be revealed, they shall also rejoice with Him. I Peter 4:12, 13. They glory in tribulation (Rom. 5:3), believing that thereby their faith is tried and refined. I Pet. 1:7. They experience that patient suffering begets a glad and constant hope, and that the cross, which to those who perish, is foolishness, is to them the power of God unto salvation (I Cor. 1:18), and esteem it as the grace of God, when for conscience they suffer wrongfully. I Pet. 2:19. And though they be troubled, perse-
cuted and cast down here, yet they are not in despair, forsaken, or destroyed; but with holy Paul, they always bear about in their bodies, the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of the Lord Jesus might be made manifest in their bodies. II Cor. 4:8-11. They feel in the abounding of the sufferings of Christ, an abounding consolation through Christ. II Cor. 1:5. They believe that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the future glory. Rom. 8:18. Hence they arm themselves for .tribulation and suffering, as true heroes of their captain, Jesus Christ. They have before them a great brotherhood, who finished their course in this way. Cain could not bear his brother's piety and favor with God, and slew him. Gen. 4:8. Violence and oppression ruled the first world. Gen. 6:13. Pious Lot had to be the sport and lust of the Sodomites. Gon. 19. David had to flee before Saul. The prophet Isaiah lamented already in his time that he who departed from evil had to be everyone's prey and derision. Many holy prophets and men of God had to endure persecution and martyrdom from the wicked, as holy Zacharias, Amos, Micah, Jeremiah, Daniel, and the three young men, Eleazar, the mother with her seven -sons, and others, who need not be mentioned, since the time and age of the New Testament, furnish abundant material in this respect. John, the forerunner of Jesus, had to offer his neck to the sword, in prison. Matt. 14:10. Our captain of the faith, Jesus Christ, had to enter into His glory through much derision, ignominy and suffering, and ultimately through the most shameful death of the cross. His apostles and disciples, as the chronicles state, followed their Master. Peter and Paul were put to death by Emperor Nero. James, the brother of John, was killed with the sword by Herod. Acts 12:2. Matthew was nailed to the earth, in India. Bartholomew was flayed. Andrew was crucified. Thomas was thrust through with darts. Philip was nailed to a cross, and then stoned to death. Simon Zelotes was scourged and crucified. James, the son of Alpheus, was cast down from the temple, at Jerusalem, and then beaten to death with sticks. Judas Thaddeus was killed, in Persia, by wicked heathen priests. Matthias also obtained the martyr's crown. Mark, the evangelist, was dragged about by a cord around his neck, at Alexandria, till he died. John, the apostle, banished in the island of Patmos, adorned the Gospel with suffering [as is circumstantially recorded in the first book, first century, in the account of the martyrs]. This was the way of the holy prophets. This is the path which our Saviour and His messengers, and afterwards many disciples, trod. Polycarp, the disciple of John, was burnt alive at Smyrna. Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, was torn by wild beasts [as is stated in the second century.] Even the Roman bishops, in the first three hundred years, were mostly all martyred, and subjected, with the common Christians, to persecution by the heathen Em perors [these, however, we commit to God]. Under the Emperor Diocletian, there was such an awful persecution that it seemed as though the Christian name would be utterly extirpated; so that the first churches at the time of Emperor Constantine were so accustomed to persecution, that they deliberately prepared themselves for suffering.
Since, then, the God-fearing who are visited with the cross, have so many holy martyrs as predecessors; and since the cross is foretold them; yea, since such glorious promises are given to those who suffer, it is a little thing for them that they, who gladly acknowledge themselves soldiers under the bloody banner of Christ, are therefore aspersed and ridiculed as fools. The Christian reader may here perceive and firmly conclude that the cross is also the ensign of those who serve and follow Jesus Christ, the Captain of the faith; and that, on the contrary, those who afflict others, with crosses and sufferings, do not belong to this Captain, but are under another leader. For the true Christians have never persecuted the innocent, but were always persecuted themselves; and in the primitive church, even in the time of Constantine, when the bishops began to rise a little higher in the world, and were protected by the Emperor, it was considered an abomination to .persecute any one; they, however, suffered persecution themselves. It was then deemed such a detestable thing, to put to death or persecute any one for heresy, that Bishop Ithacius was excommunicated and separated from the church, because he, through the tyrant Maximus, had brought about the death of Priscilian, the heretic; as the Roman cardinal, Caesar Baronius, very plainly describes in his church history, for the year 385.
He also states further, that it is utterly incompatible with the meekness of a pastor. Again, that none of the holy fathers even commended it, that an ecclesiastic should seek to bring a heretic to his death. So that, according to him, St. Martin would have no fellowship with the aforesaid Ithacius or his adherents, because their hands were stained with the blood of Priscilian. And though, induced by the threats of the tyrant Maximus, St. Martin feigned to have fellowship for an hour with Ithacius, he nevertheless subsequently manifested great regret for it, since he felt that in consequence of his dissimulation, the gift of healing was partly taken from him.
From this it is clearly manifest, how falsely they boast of being the successors of Christ and His apostles, and of the primitive church, who have so abominably stained their hands with the blood of innocent people, people who only confessed and practiced the Gospel according to the full dictates of their conscience; yea, concerning whom the tyrants themselves frequently testified, that their life was pious; that they would not willingly lie, or speak against their conscience; and that they were not apprehended on account of any misdeeds, but only because they did not obey the mother, the holy
church, and the decree of the Emperor. It is so far f rom such being the . true and apostolical church, that there is no surer mark of the false and antiChristian church, than the killing of heretics, or rather, so-called heretics; for however abominable heresy may be, this is the most abominable of all. For what indeed is more opposed to the peaceable, meek, merciful, forgiving, and revengeless character of Christ, than to persecute any one for his faith? What can we conceive of that militates more against the holy laws and commandments of Christ, which chiefly consist in love, peace, humility, meekness, lowliness, mercy, forgiveness, compassion, etc. If Christians are called (as they do) to requite hatred with love, evil with good, cursing with blessing; yea, must they, according to the doctrine of Christ, pray for them who oppress and persecute them; how, then, is it possible that they can remain Christians and themselves oppress and persecute others who have never laid a straw in their way? Can we believe, that any trace, yea, any true knowledge of the spirit and word of Christ remains where there is such a direct antichristian disposition and action? If, according to Christ, false prophets are to be known and judged from their fruits (Matt. 7:16), there can be nothing by which they may, more readily, be distinguished, than from their persecuting others; for they are witnesses unto themselves, as Christ said to the Pharisees, that they are the children of them who killed the true prophets, and who fill up the measure of their fathers. Our Saviour compares them to serpents and a generation of vipers, who cannot escape the damnation of hell. Matt. 23:31-33. The disciples of Christ, who still entertained the hope of the establishing of an external and carnal Israel; asked their Lord, whether they should, according to the example of Elias, command fire to come down from heaven, upon those who did not receive Him. Whereupon Christ earnestly rebuked them, saying, "Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them." Luke 9:54-56. But these heretickillers, who boast of being the vice-regents and followers of Christ, yea, doctors of divinity, dare, not only without asking Christ, but even against His express prohibition and example, whet the sword, and stir up the fire, not to murder those who refuse to receive Christ, but those who are ready to adhere to and follow Him even unto death. By this they clearly indicate, first, that they are governed and impelled by the spirit not of Christ, but of the devil (who was a murderer from the beginning, John 8:44); and, secondly, that they do not come like Christ and His followers, to save men's souls, but to destroy them; since they kill not only the bodies of the innocent, thus dishonoring the image which is created after God (Gen. 5:1), and making themselves guilty of the mortal sin of bloodshedding (Gen. 9:6) but, O awful deed! they purposely and as much as lies in their power, also endeavor to kill their souls, whom, being considered by them in a state of damnation, they suddenly cut off from the time of repentance. Matt. 26:52. They would presumptuously teach Christ, the perfect wisdom; for He deemed it well, and commanded His disciples, to let the tares grow until the harvest, lest they should root up the wheat with the tares, but these teach and do the opposite. Weeding contrary to the command of Christ, they root up not only the tares, but, passing by bad, unchaste, extravagant, pompous, avaricious, mendacious, deceitful, envious, hateful, and vindictive men, they also, from the field of the world, root out the purest grain.
They usurp the office of the Most High, and would command and compel the souls who are not under them, but under the sceptre of Jesus Christ (Matt. 10:28); yea, they set themselves not only beside, but above the Divine Majesty, demanding that men should obey them rather than God. God has commanded that we should serve Him with all our hearts (Dent. 6:5), but these prohibit men from serving God in this manner, and constrain them contrary to the convictions of their consciences to follow their laws and institutions. Matt. 21:37: Christ constrained the people to conversion', by words of admonition, persuasion and reproof, and of those who were offended at His doctrine, He only said, "Let them alone: they be blind leaders." Matt. 15:14. But these compel with fire and sword, so that they deliver -to the executioner those who embrace the doctrine of Christ according to all their ability, and do not feel themselves at liberty to follow these blind leaders; bringing them into a strait, where they cannot without danger, escape either to the right or to the left; for, if they obey these, they fall into the hands of God; and if they adhere to God, they cannot escape the cruelty of these men.
Now; in order to give a semblance and gloss to their unchristian and ungodly punishments of heretics., they befoul these pious people with the stain of disobedience, and, washing their hands, as it were, from innocent blood, lay the guilt upon the edicts, which, however, were devised, and are daily executed, through their bloody advice and instigation. But, pray, who has given them power to make edicts against souls and consciences, to reign thereby in the kingdom of Christ, in- which they themselves can be but subjects and servants? Will this excuse them? By no means. The Jews who sought to bring the innocent Jesus to death, also said like these, "We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, " John 19:7. They know, or ought to know, that at the tribunal of Christ judgment will be rendered, not according to human edicts, but according to the divine word, "The word that I have spoken," said the Lord,"the same shall judge him in the last day," (John 12:48), and, therefore, everyone-is necessarily bound more to the law of Christ, than to their laws and edicts; yea, an account will have to be given of these edicts,
at that tribunal, and that whereby they sentenced the innocent wrongfully to death, will then justly aggravate their own sentence. What will they offer as an excuse, when an account will be demanded of them, why they exercised such bloodthirsty tyranny over souls? why they wrested the sceptre out of the hand of Christ, and usurped His seat? why they made themselves masters in that kingdom in which they, as servants, must themselves give an account of their actions? why they, as evil servants, treated and beat their fellow servants so cruelly; though He (Christ) had warned and threatened, to cut such asunder, and to appoint them their portion with the hypocrites, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 24:45, 51)? why they did not consider, that those shall have judgment without mercy, who have showed no mercy (Jas. 2:13)? What terror, what anxious remorse and fleeing will it cause when, to convict them of their wickedness, there shall come forth those whom they fettered, chained, beat, killed and martyred, whom they then accounted fools and madmen, and whom they now behold in such great glory and esteem with God.
In that day, when all hidden things must come to light, such empty and artificial excuses will not avail. Hence, now is the time to consider how unchristian it is, to persecute Christians; how much deserving of death it is, to shed innocent blood; how culpable it is, to dishonor the image of God; how perverse and vain it is, to fight against spiritual truth with carnal weapons; how unnatural and unreasonable it is, to do unto another that which we would not have done to ourselves, and who of all would like to be forced in the convictions of his conscience. How presumptuous it is, to usurp the seat of God, and to wish to rule over the conscience, whereas Christ commanded, to render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's. Matt. 22:21. They should bear in mind, that Christ prayed for His persecutors, and learn from it, how unbecoming it is, that those who would be Christians, persecute others, who pray for them. Luke 23:34; I Pet. 2:19. They should contemplate, how great an evil it is, to comp 1 any one's conscience by the terrors of fire, rop~, and sword, when Paul so strictly forbids to wound the weak conscience of the brethren. Rom. 14:15. They should remember, that, since the holy apostle commands no greater punishment for heretics, than to shun them, they also need, yea may, use no greater. Tit. 3:10. Surely, if they would well examine themselves, they would not so readily proceed to condemn, but would suffer themselves to be restrained, since Christ declares that with what measure we mete, it shall be measured to us again. Matt. 7:2. They would fear, if they knew themselves aright, that in condemning another they might condemn themselves; since it might easily be the case, that before God the judge was as culpable as the one judged.
They further produce, in defense of, or, rather as an excuse for, the punishments of heretics, these reasons: 1. Thereby to bring and compel them to conversion. 2. That their heresy might not propagate itself, and pollute others. 3. To prevent rebellion. As regards the first, it is the duty of every Christian, to promote the salvation of his neighbor as much as is possible. But how is this to be done? by external compulsion with fire and sword? Impossible; this touches and affects the body, but not the conscience, which must not be compelled, but led and instructed. The Word of God is the sword with which all error and heresy must be cut down. If the supposed error cannot be conquered with the power of truth, swords will be dull before it. And though a man, through dread of suffering, renounce his belief with the mouth, yet will he not do it with the heart; and thus, instead of converted Christians, dissembling hypocrites are made. But if a man remain steadfast, and is put to death, how can this tend to his conversion, since every means of conversion is taken away? For, one of two things is certain: if he is a damnable heretic, he is cast down into hell; but if he is not, a saved Christian is put to death; choose whichever you please and an abominable crime is committed. What is it then, that urges them thus to promote any one's conversion? what binds them to this? who enjoins it upon them? who advises them to it? yea, who gives them permission to do it? and which of the apostles has set such an example? Truly, such reasons are but fig leaves and covers with which they seek to hide their shame and wickedness. They pretend that they aim at the conversion of men, but in fact seek to secure their own pleasure, honor and lust, in order thus to exercise undisputed despotism in the kingdom of God. So far is this from being the case, that any one's conversion is promoted thereby, that on the contrary, all impartial persons conceive an aversion against them; so that even the good, (if any good remains, or can be found, in the persecutors), is rendered suspicious; yea, entirely destroyed, inasmuch as their words, however entreating and flattering they may be, can obtain no entrance or credit, neither do they deserve it. For, who would expect to learn anything godly or Christian from those who are pregnant with murder, and whose hands are stained with innocent blood?"Do men gather grapes of thorns?" Matt. 7:16.
As to the second, it is so far from the fact that supposed heresy should be checked by tyranny, that it is almost always spread by it; for, when hands are laid on people whose life is blameless and pious, and they are imprisoned, tortured and subjected to a painful death, only for the name of Christ, and because they, as they openly confess, dare consent to nothing contrary to their conscience,-this produces reflection and attention in all. impartial minds, who, on investigating the matter, discover the innocence of the persons accused and persecuted, and thus conceive an aversion to such degenerate Christians, who persecute others.
and associate themselves with those who so valiantly bear the cross of Christ, as examples abundantly testify; which verifies what an ancient father has said. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. When the tyranny of popery was at its -height, apostasy from it was greatest, for martyrdoms are effectual sermons, which touch the heart, and awaken the slumbering eyes; nor is this strange, for he that has a little knowledge of the Christian religion, and is not utterly blinded by malignant partiality comes easily to believe that the persecutors must be heretics themselves, since Christ and His disciples never persecuted any one, but always suffered persecution themselves. They easily perceive, that these cruel men are not innocent, meek and defenseless sheep, to which Christ compares His followers, but much rather ravening wolves, which have crept into the fold of Christ, and devour the sheep. John 10:1. The plain and pure truth, confirmed by an innocent life, is the means to overcome error and falsehood; they who depart from this to carnal weapons, betray themselves, and disclose their injustice and impotence; for, since they cannot prevail against the truth, they endeavor, by exterminating and crushing the persons, also to exterminate and crush the truth. From all this it appears, how empty an excuse they seize to defend their tyranny, and what frail weapons they employ, to uphold the delusion. But it is a purely fictitious excuse, with which to disguise their purpose, and to attire in a strange dress the ugliness which cruelty presents to every eye, and, through deception, to make it pleasing to one another. They pretend to be zealous for the salvation of the people, but, in fact, endeavor to propagate their own kingdom of lies; and if aught rises in opposition to it, they seek to subdue it with the arm of flesh. The Pharisees, in the time of Christ, objected to Christ for the same reason, namely, that He was perverting the people. Luke 23:2. Their self-love and thirst for political power begat in them a bitter hatred and envy against our Saviour, on account of which they sought to bring Him to death. This they cover; of this they are silent. They cry, as though they were filled with a godly zeal, "This fellow perverts the nation;" though they, as well as these sought to seduce the people from Christ, the truth, to their own lies.
As regards the accusation of rebellion, this also is not an invention of yesterday or today. He (Christ), said the Pharisees, stirreth up the people with His doctrine; whereas they stirred up the people against Christ, who preached nothing but peace, love, humility, meekness, and the like, and whose life and actions were nothing but an overflowing fountain of kindness, benevolence and mercy. Thus did they stain, without a shadow of evidence, with the slander of rebellion, people who lived in all simplicity and integrity, and made open confession, that they were bound by the law and example of Christ, to live without revenge, and exercise a forgiving spirit towards everyone, yea, to love those hat hate them, and to do good to their enemies. He that examines the history of the Netherlands and. Germany, for the last sixty years, will find that rebellion, contention, and dissension, yea, alienations and destruction of countries and cities, have been caused by persecution on account of religious differences; for religious zeal cannot be cut off with the sword, nor consumed by fire. On the contrary, it is evident, and confirmed by present practice, that many and various religious persuasions can live together peaceably and quietly, and that the cities and countries where liberty of conscience is maintained, have prospered, and experienced the special blessing of God. Hence, also, the H. M. Lords States of these countries, seeing the great mistakes of the King of Spain, have never been willing to follow in his steps, but expressly declare, as appears from the records of the Treaty of Peace at Cologne, page 38, "That religion does not concern men, but God, and that the king owed obedience to it as well as the subject." They declare to have found by experience, that force and weapons are of little value for the spreading and preservation of religion; and that, even as they would not have that violence should be done to their consciences, so it does not well accord with the law of God, for them to do violence to the consciences of others. Again on page 54, it is declared, "That the Christian religion is a great mystery, and that for the promotion of the same, God does not use wicked soldiers, nor bows or swords." Again on page 57, "We have learned that the government of souls and consciences concerns God alone; and that He is the true avenger of violated or dishonored religion." And though some, forgetful of their own cross, or that of their ancestors, incited to a revival of the abolished slavery, yet their E. E. never lent a willing ear to it, nor suffered themselves to be blind executors of such partial and pernicious counselors, who thereby sought to build and establish more their own kingdom, than the kingdom of Christ. But, through the goodness of God, we still have at the present day, authorities under whose protection we can lead a quiet and peaceable life, in all godliness and honesty, I Tim. 2:2; can meet and assemble without molestation; preach and hear the Word of God; use the sacraments as instituted by God, and openly practice our divine worship; for which kind privilege all subjects and Christian believers are under great obligations, to reverently show all gratitude to their authorities, high as well as low, to faithfully obey them, to honestly pay customs and taxes, and to pray earnestly and constantly to God, for the welfare of their persons and government, in order that this, favor may descend from us to our children and posterity. We must also greatly thank the Lord for it, and magnify His name by a holy life, constantly seeking, more and more, to evince virtue from our faith, and to shine by good works in this benighted world. We must see well to it, that we do not neglect or abuse this time of grace, II
Cor. 6:1; for if we employ it badly, and use liberty as an occasion to commit sin, it will undoubtedly happen to us as it did to Israel, who, having waxed fat and strong, departed from God, and was therefore again cast into distress and misery, until necessity compelled them to seek God. Deut. 32:15. Oh, how many there are, it is to be feared, who with Demas have loved the world again I II Tim. 4:10. How many there are, who, having forsaken their first zeal and love, have become cold and slothful in their devotions!
In former times, in the times of the cross, when men could assemble only under peril of their lives, our zeal drove us in the night and at unseasonable times, into nooks and corners, and into fields and woods. How precious was then one hour which could be employed in stirring up and establishing one another in godliness. How the souls then thirsted and hungered after divine food. How pleasantly then tasted the words of godliness. Men did not ask for ingenious or flowery sermons; but hunger devoured all that was presented. Then soul treasure was diligently sought, since bodily possessions could give but little comfort. Then heavenly riches were sought for above all things; for earthly possessions were altogether insecure. But how is it now? Temporal avocations have the preference throughout; the oxen must first be proved, and the field be inspected, before one can come to the heavenly marriage, Luke 14:18, 19. Simplicity is changed into pomp and ostentation. Possessions have increased, but in the soul there is leanness. Clothes have become costly, but the inward ornament has perished. Love has waxed cold, and has diminished, but contentions have increased. Do you suppose that God will always behold this with the same longsuffering? Think ye, that He will never once use His uplifted rod? He that did not spare Israel, when they departed from Him; He that did not pass David by, when he sinned through fleshly lust; He who did not spare Solomon, when he turned his eyes to strange women, and fell into idolatry with them, shall He spare those who, through love of the world and the practice of sin, have so greatly departed from Him? He often delivered Israel from one tyrant to another, that they might learn to know Him, and reform. He chastised them as a father, that they might not serve Him with a divided heart, as in the time of Elijah, but that they might serve Him alone. I Kings 18:21. He delivered Amaziah, the King of Judah, into the hands of his enemies, because he did not serve God with a perfect heart. II Chron. 25:2. Now, examine your heart; whether it is not divided; whether you do not seek to serve Christ and the world at the same time; how feebly you hear and consider the Word of God, since your thoughts are entangled in earthly vanities; how seldom and how slothfully the works of godliness are practiced; and how busy and zealous you are throughout in amassing money and property, and in feasting yourself on pleasure. It is true, you have cast away the dumb, wooden idols, but examine now, whether the idol of riches and avarice is not set up in your heart. Eph. 5:5; I Tim. 6:10. Plow through the inmost depths of your heart, and see whither most of your inclinations and desires tend; whether, easily satisfied here, they penetrate the clouds, and have their conversation in heaven, or, whether digging with insatiable desire into the earth, you seek to increase your riches and to add house to house, and farm to farm; whether Christ in heaven is your supreme treasure, or whether your treasure is here, against which Christ so earnestly warns His disciples. Matt. 6:19. If you would make a test of this, study attentively your intentions and thoughts in every occurrence; consider once, how great a love you have for riches; how much confidence you place in them; how greatly troubled you are with a heathenish solicitude for the future; how anxious and despondent you are when bad times and misfortunes threaten; and how securely you live when sailing before the wind; how reluctant and miserable your love for your possessions renders you in the giving of alms; how great contention and how many lawsuits you would rather engage in, than give up your right, and suffer damage; how soon joy and sleep forsake you, when losses and misfortunes befall you; how much time earthly contemplations detract from your proper devotions; how feeble and spiritless they render your prayers; how deep the abundance of your treasures sinks you into sensuality; how much you are pleased with yourself on this account, and exalt yourself above others; finally, how painfully you part from them, and how sadly you will bid them adieu on your deathbed. Let this serve as a test, I say, and examine yourself, and you will discover at the same time, what you love and serve most, and how much or little you have"crucified the flesh with the lusts thereof." Gal. 5:24. For, though outward persecutions now and then cease, yet every Christian is called to sufferings and conflicts; each must take up his cross and follow Christ; each must live, not after the flesh, but after the Spirit; each must suffer in the flesh, that he may cease from sin. Matt. 10:38; Rom. 8:1; I Pet. 4:1. If you then find, that the time of freedom [from persecution] has given liberty and room to your lusts, persecute yourself, crucify and put yourself to death, and offer up soul and body to God.
In times of persecution, words and colloquies consisted in edifying instructions, and awakenings to godliness, magnifying of the name of God, mutual consolations in suffering, exhortations and incitations to constancy, and recommendations of eternal salvation. Examine once, whether at this time you have not lent your tongue to please frivolous, worldly men with vain and useless talk; whether thereby you did not only not promote godliness, but were also a hindrance and injury to it; whether you did not defame your neighbor's good name and reputation; and whether your
tongue has not by lying and deceit ministered to avarice. In times of the cross, the time was spent in godly exercises, in consoling and edifying one another, in visiting those in prison, and in preparing for suffering by devout meditations. Consider once, on what you have bestowed the precious time; how much of it has been squandered in voluptuousness and vanity; how much has been wasted in disputes and quarrels; how much has been lost by needless anxiety and labor; and how little has remained for devotion. No doubt, you will find, that the absence of the chastening rod has rendered men impious and without reverence, and that"the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life" have usurped the place of piety and humility. But the most dangerous of all is, that but few examine themselves; but few sigh over themselves. Without knowing it, many are poor, naked and blind, who with those of Laodicea think that they are rich and have everything in abundance, Rev. 3:17; but it is a wealth with which God is not pleased, and by which the spiritual riches, which consist in faith and love, in a living hope and a good conscience, are diminished. See in the writings of the martyrs, how their life was, how their suffering, how their constancy. It was the will of God, that the children of Israel should remember the ways of their fathers, and the instruction of wisdom concealed therein; for they are all, ancestry and posterity, taken as one body. Deut.8:2. Frequently it is said through the prophets: I have brought thee out of the land of Egypt; though this had been done to their forefathers. Micah 6:4; Ps. 81:10; H'os. 11:1. Examine your ways, and compare them with theirs, and see whether the love of the world has not blinded your eyes, and led them away from God. Many, when they could not use the world, turned of necessity to God, as their nearest refuge; but as soon as a little breathing time set in, they again began to lean towards the world; the parents became rich, the children luxrious and wanton; the world caressed them,' and in course of time they became respected and lifted up; the.reproach of the cross was relinquished, and the honor of this world stepped into its place. And this, in tilc first church was the reason why God permitted a most awful persecution to come in the time of Emperor Diocletian, that His children might be chastised thereby, who already began to join in with the common world. Eus., lib. 8, cap. 1. Hence, we must see well to it, that we do not incur like guilt, lest there come upon us what came upon theirs; for no one fares worse in such times, than he who has not made good use of his time; such an one will then be visited with woe, distress and misery; but to them that love God, all things work together for good; they are purified and tried by the refining fire; hence it is necessary that God at times purge His threshingfloor with His fan, that the tares may not get the upperhand, to its own destruction. But we only have to ask His divine goodness, to chastise us as a father, and.draw us by His love, moving our hearts and minds to Himward, in order that we may lead a godly and holy life, in all love, peaceableness, kindness, and long-suffering; not easily complaining of or grudging against one another, but bearing in patience one another's infirmities, and bettering each other by good instructions; fleeing and avoiding all offenses, contention and dissension, separations, and,schisms, which cause insufferable and damnable discord; striving for peace; and seeking to heal, and restore to unity, quiet and peace, that which is broken and ruined, rent and torn asunder by the subtlety of the devil, and blind ignorance, and scattered into various factions, to the great offense and stumblingblock of many. If we do this, we shall cause the blessing and presence of God to be with us. Col. 3:12; I Pet. 4:8; James 5:9.
In the meantime, let us constantly adhere to God, always pray for an increase of wisdom and divine knowledge, and run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, Heb. 12:1, 2; for we have the same conflict which David had in his time, and job, and all the prophets, and Christ and His apostles, together with all the pious followers in the first church, as also before and in our time. They all had to overcome the world; so de we; they all had to deny themselves; so do we; one crown is to be gained, and the same kingdom is to be inherited. Heb. 12:28. The times also, are just the same; but the different life makes them different; however, all inequality must ultimately merge in the equality of God. In order to make His followers partakers of this equality and unity, Christ prayed, that they might be one with Him and the Father. John 17:20. This was also the sole aim of the apostles; to this, as the eternal, supreme treasure, they exhorted every one;"For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and upon the Israel of God. Amen." Gal. 6:15, 16.
Written out of love, to edification and amendment.