Every day is throwing new light upon the great events of the past. From various causes we are able to form a more accurate estimate of the transactions of our ancestors than those who immediately succeeded them. We can in spirit mingle with them, and from the increasing light which history is shedding upon the social and moral condition of many of those early brethren in this country "of whom the world was not worthy" we can understand their difficulties and more fully appreciate the noble triumphs many of them won. In few instances is this more remarkably the case than in that interesting company of Christian sufferers mentioned at the head of this paper. The detail in the pages of our historians is very brief; but, happily, more abundant materials are within our reach. All our writers concur in stating, that those brethren had fled from the Low Countries, to escape the misery to which the avowal of Baptist principles exposed them. "We had to forsake our friends," says one of the sufferers, "our country, our possessions, on account of tyranny, and fled as lambs from a wolf; only because of the pure evangelical truth of Christ, and not for uproar's or faction's sake, like those of Munster, whose views are an abomination, of which we have been slanderously accused."
Most of them settled in London, with the hope of protection, and for some time pursued their calling in peace. But this was of short continuance. Popery had altered only in name. Its spirit was rampant in episcopal bosoms, and history has given a full record of its fearful deeds. These simple-minded people soon felt its power. They had continued to meet for exhortation and prayer, and sought the edification of one another in the Lord. The morning of the sabbath had dawned, and these devoted servants of Christ sought their accustomed place of worship. Doubtless it was some retired house, or an upper room in which they met for holy service. What elevated feelings would animate them! What a conflict between hope and fear! How pure, how tender, but how unearthly, the devotion of such a meeting! What a power of principle they would unfold! All the dignity of Christian manhood would be seen. They knew the power of suffering; they were prepared again to brave its fury, if necessary, for the truth. Imagination will realise more than this, as by an effort it tries to identify itself with this little band of Christian disciples. The hour of trial was at hand. "It happened," says a deeply interested witness of their subsequent sufferings, "on Easter, the 3rd of April, A.D. 1575,1 that thirty anabaptists, of both sexes, had assembled together in a house near Alligator, 2 on the road leading to Spiegelzhof, for the purpose of mutual exhortation and prayer; but, being detected by the neighbours, they were nearly all taken then to prison, by so small a guard that some could easily have escaped, if they could have felt liberty of conscience to do so." Noble men! Even your mistakes proclaim your greatness. The names of Blyb of them are preserved. They deserve to be remembered. They were, John Pieters, Henry Terwoort, Garret Von Byler, John Von Straaton, and Christian Kemels. From the custody of the sheriff they were soon transferred to the tender mercy of my lord of London. Their final examination was at the episcopal palace. Ignorant of their language, the bishop was assisted on this momentous occasion by a French and Dutch minister. Their reconciliation to the Dutch church, and the cure of their pestilential heresy, was the avowed end of this imposing procedure.
The usual course was adopted here. Blandishment and terror were mingled. The episcopal smile was first exhausted, and then, came the terrible frown. These sturdy confessors were assured that their recantation would have the most healthful influence upon the state of their souls, and be hailed as a special token of God's great goodness by the whole church; whilst the alternative in this world would be banishment or death, and in the future hopeless misery. The following graphic description is from the pen of Von Byler himself, and will show us the nature of the charge upon which these holy men were tried, and throw a gleam of light upon the mode of their proce[e]dings.
"When we came before the bishop, there were present, Master Joris, 3 James de Koninck, John de Rodemaker, two members of the council, and a French clergyman. We were placed before those lords, and their servants, who propounded four questions to us, to which we were to give either an affirmative or a negative." '1. Whether Christ did not assume his flesh from the body of Mary?'
" 'We replied, 'That he is the Son of the living God.'
" '2. Whether infants should not be baptized?'
" 'We cannot understand matters so, for we read nothing of it in the scriptures.'
" '3 Whether it was lawful for a Christian to attend to, or discharge the duties of, a magistrate's office?'
" We replied, 'That our conscience would not suffer us to do so; but we considered the magistracy as a minister of God, for the protection of the servants of God.'
" '4. Whether a Christian was allowed to take an oath?'
"We again replied, our conscience would not now allow us to do so, for Christ said, 'Let your communications be yea, yea, nay, nay.' We then kept silent The bishop said that our misdeeds were very gross, and we could not inherit the kingdom of God O! Lord, avenge not! The bishop then remanded us to prison. A young brother who was first interrogated, boldly confessed the truth; and was on that account sorely accused, and led to Westminster, where he was imprisoned by himself. This caused us much grief."
Some additional information may be gathered from an interesting letter written by a ccuntryman of these persecuted saints, to his mother, then resident at Ghent. She was a woman of great piety, and had requested her son to supply her with all the information he could procure. His name was Somers, a resident in London, a member of the Dutch church there, and subsequently, on his return to his native land, raised to the highest honours of the state.4 "It is probable," he says, that I am better acquainted with the circumstances than the generality of people, inasmuch as I have had frequent intercourse with them, and have received Information from all of them: so I cannot forbear giving such an account of it as accords with the extent of my information in reference to the matter. In connexion with which, I send you a copy of their confession; on account of which some died, and others are retained in prison." We have given this, that our readers may see the trustworthiness of his narrative.
On their return from their examination to their place of confinement, Mr. Somers says, "That ten or twelve of them made their escape, as they were aware of the danger to which they were exposed, and perceived the fine opportunity of escape that presented itself; the guard consisted but of one or two individuals. The whole of them, however, in the course of two or three days, returned to the prison, partly in order to acquit their bail, who were bound in the sum of LlOO, and partly because the bishop, as a man of honour, promised with an oath, that he would set them all at liberty in the course of five or six days if they would return; but if not, the rest should remain in prison till Candlemass."
The dreary solitude of their prisonhouse was soon disturbed by their officious opponents. Again and again they were visited by many Netherlanders, and twice they were summoned into the august presence of the London pontiff. To one of these visits the following extract refers, - "When we were all lodged in prison, came Master Joris and said, if we would join the church he would set us at liberty - for these are the bishop's orders. But we contended valiantly for the truth in Christ Jesus - for he is our Captain and none else; upon him we put all our confidence."5 These means, sooner or later to some extent, were successful For soon "after this, five of the men were converted (through much disputation with these Netherlanders who belonged to the church) before they were condemned as heretics ; nevertheless, they were placed before a rostrum in St. Paul's Churchyard, in a large assembly of some thousands of Englishmen, and a bundle of faggots was laid upon each one's shoulder, as a sign that they deserved to be burnt. In addition to which they inflicted many other injuries and ignominy upon them, though the bishop had promised that he would set them at liberty without any incumbrances if they would only sign the four articles; but the event proved the contrary. This transpired the 26th of May, A.D., 1575." 6
The form of recantation may be seen in Crosby and Ivimey.7
Both say it took place in the Dutch church, Austin Friars. But the account of Somers is the more probable, and is, moreover, confirmed by Fuller. 8 This partial success inspired the bishop and his Dutch colleagues with hope, and they renewed their efforts to win the remainder to their faith. For the fourth time they were called before the priestly tribunal. It was, says Von Byler, "On Whitsuntide morning we were chained two and two, and led before the lords. When we were brought before them, they presented the same four questions, urging us to subscribe to them; but we told them that we would abide by the word of the Lord. We were then remanded to prison, and fettered as befor; the women were confined at Newgate, together with a young brother; but they were all released, and transported. The young man, however, was tied to a cart and scourged, and afterwards whipped out of town." The statement of Mr. Somers is rather fuller, and gives us an occasional glimpse of thetenderness with which episcopal hands dealt with their erring brethren. "In the course of a few days, the bishop perceiving that the rest would not apostatize from their faith, sentenced them all to death in the ecclesiastical court-room, St. Paul's church (as was customary with the papistic bishops during queen Mary's reign, who were wont to condemn the Christians to death), and deliver them into the hands of the civil judge; then they bound the women hand to hand, and conducted them to Newgate - the prison for capital convicts - together with one of the men which was considered the youngest and most innocent among them; but the rest of the men were conducted to their old episcopal prison, for which reason it was supposed that the women would be executed first, even as persons came daily to threaten them, and to present death to them unless they would apostatize. Hence they suffered great anguish and temptation for five or six days, supposing every day that they would be burnt; nay, on the very day that sentence of their banishment came from the court - for the bailiff came with his servant at ten o'clock in the evening, unto the prison, to take an inventory of all their property, informing them, in addition, that they should prepare for death the next day. This he did, in order to see whether any of them would apostatize through fear; but perceiving that they all remained stedfast, he informed them that it was the queen's pleasure to be gracious to them, and merely banish them from the country, and have the young men whipped behind a cart. Accordingly, in the course of five or six days, about fourteen women were conveyed from the prison, which is situated in the space between St. Martin's church and St. Catherine's, to the ship by the apparitors: but the young man was whipped behind a cart, which moved on before him. Thus they were all banished from the country, on pain of imprisonment, and reside for the present in Holland and Zealand.
"A few days after, the five men that remained in the bishop's prison were likewise sentenced to death by the bishop, and conveyed to Newgate, where one of them died of wretchedness and a load of chains; and the rest were apprehensive that they would inflict extreme punishment upon them, because they had exercised so much severity upon the women. They were also informed that the queen and her whole council were so highly offended at them that no person would venture to present a petition for them, since an evil report arose, that they denied God and Christ, and rejected all government and all respect for the magistrate and civil power, as ungodly and unchristian."
Efforts, nevertheless, were made to obtain their freedom. A petition and confession of their faith were presented to her majesty; but that cruel and haughty sovereign refused to listen to it, and indignantly reprimanded those through whose influence it had been laid before her. Failing in this, they laid them before the bishop, through a noble lord, he graciously condescended to tell them how distressed he was on their account; but there was no hope of favour unless they would sign the four articles, and abjure their heresy. Hypocrisy is hateful in any form, but it is most hideous when associated with the cant of religion as seen in this pretended successor of the apostles. The substance of this confession we have, doubtless, in a document prepared by the two martyrs, as a vindication of themselves. We select a few sentences from it, and our readers will see what it was his lordship of London condemned as heresy, and for the defence of which the writers were burnt at the stake.
"We poor and despised strangers who are persecuted for the testimony of Jesus, desire that God may grant all mankind peace, so that they may live together in all godliness to the praise of the Lord, and to the advancement of their soul's salvation. Since so many, both by writing and verbal statement, do us great injustice, accusing and charging lies upon us, I am constrained to present our belief very summarily. They do not speak to us, and do not, in a mild manner, inquire of us what our religious views are, as the scriptures teach; but they speak all manner of evil of us, so that they increase our miseries and sufferings; and, besides, they have no compassion either on our distressed wives or helpless children."
"We seek no salvation in our works, as it is reported we do, but we hope to be saved alone through the merits of our Lord Christ. Nor do we boast that we are without sin, but we always confess ourselves sinners before God. But we have to refrain from voluntary sins if we would be saved; such as adultery, fornication, sorcery, sedition, bloodshed, cursing and swearing, lying and cheating, pride, drunkenness, hatred, envy; these are the sins that the scriptures declare, who do them shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
"They also say, we refuse to hear the word of God because we do not go to hear the preachers of the church. To this charge we would say, that we do not hear the preachers is, because the word of God constrains to do so; because they are people not fit to attend to the Sacred callings of a gospel preacher, for Paul teaches Timothy and says, 'The things thou hast heard of me, among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men,' &c. Now if the preachers were such as the apostle required, we would cheerfully hear them - we would be the first and last in church." . . .
"We are also accused of not being subject to the magistracy, because we do not baptize infants. To this we reply, we desire to submit to the magistracy in all things not contrary to the word of God. That we do not suffer our children to be baptized by the priests, is not done out of temerity, but we do it out of fear to God, because Christ commands believers to be baptized; for Christ's apostles did not baptize infants but adults only, and those on their faith and confessions of their sins. . . . If it had been the will of God that infants should be baptized, he would have commanded it to be done. Christ would have been baptized in his infancy, as well as circumcised; but as it is not the will of God, therefore did he teach them differently, and received baptism differently himself." . . .
The German and French ministers having failed in their disputations to convince them of their errors, 9 and the efforts of many, both German and English, amongst whom was the celebrated John Fox, 10 who addressed a letter to the queen on their behalf, proving abortive, preparation was made for executing the diabolical sentence. "Orders were issued," says Somers, "from the court to the sheriff or bailiff of London, to execute the two oldest, according to their sentence. One of whom, Jan Pieters, was a poor man, upwards of fifty years old, and had nine children. His first wife was previously burnt at Ghent in Flanders, on account of her religion, and he had married a second wife, whose first husband had likewise been burnt at Ghent for his religious principles. But these two had fled into England on account of persecution, on supposition that they could live there and enjoy liberty of conscience without being exposed to any danger; which circumstance he represented to the bishop, and desired the favour of removing from the country with his wife and children, but he could not obtain it. The other, called Henry Terwoort, was a handsome and respectable man, twenty-five or twenty-six years' old; a goldsmith by trade, and had been married eight or ten weeks before he was apprehended." On Tuesday, the 19th of July, the work of preparation for this attfo-da-fi was commenced in Smithfield. The scenes which had been so familiar in the last reign, were about to be reacted. The massy stake soon rose in the midst, whilst the chain, heaps of faggots, and other materials, proclaimed to the passers-by that the horrid work of death was at hand. Early in the morning of Friday, the prisoners were visited by the officers of blood. The morning light had scarcely scattered the last remains of darkness, as they left their gloomy cell for ever. Pieters, as he was led in his manacles, said to those around him, "This is the way the prophets went, and Christ our Saviour, which was the case ever since the days of Abel." 11 It was scarcely six o'clock, when these noble confessors, being fastened to the stake, "were miserably burnt to ashes, without having been strangled, and without powder, according to the custom at Smithfield, where they used to burn the people who professed our religion." 12 The unhappy fate of these good men had no unfavourable influence upon their companions still in prison. They continued firm and stedfast, with the daily expectation of submitting to the same punishment. "Luke and I endeavoured, if possible, to get them out of prison four days after the execution of the others; we even prevailed upon them, through much conversation, to sign the confession, in the hope that the bishop would be satisfied with it. Having read it he found it good throughout; but he will not receive them into favour unless they sign the first four articles without contradiction, and join the Dutch church; which they are determined not to do, even if they perfectly agree with us in doctrine; since thereby they would condemn those that had been executed, and all the rest of their comrades who died or still live in the same faith, and would confess that they had been seduced by the devil, the spirit of lies and error, to this damnable heresy, of which they declare that they are by no means convinced in their own consciences, but that they are much more assured of their salvation in Christ, the very God and very Man; they would, therefore, as they say, provoke God in the highest, if they should speak contrary to the testimony of their own consciences.
"Hence we know of nothing else than that they will have to suffer the same punishment that was endured by their partners, the more especially as they attempted to break out of prison, having filed off an iron bar of the window, for which cause they are kept more closely in bonds than at any former time, and may consider themselves fortunate if an early and preferable death should release them from the great distress and misery of the prison - for they lie separate from each other, so that they cannot afford each other any consolation, and no one dare converse with them, on the pain of immediate imprisonment." 13 I will only add to this somewhat lengthy detail, that one of the prisoners, Kemels, met his fate during his confinement in his damp and gloomy cell; but that happily the others, after a somewhat lengthy confinement, were permitted to breathe the air of liberty. An ample detail of these proceedings will be found in the Dutch Martyrology, a copy of which, we hope, will speedily be in the hands of most of our readers. It will be found to throw much light on many points of our early history, and should be read by all anxious to form a correct estimate of men, who have nobly prepared the way for us. Excuse this closing allusion.
Scarborough, Nov. 6.
1. The sixteenth year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth. -Ed.
2. Aldsgate. Fuller, Church History.
3. Probably the minister of the Dutch Church.
4. Benedict's History of the Baptists, pp. 313, 314.
5. Byler's Letter.
6. Somers's Letter.
7. Crosby, 1, p. 69. Ivimey, 1, pp. 103, 104.
8. Church History, Cent. p. 169.
10. Vide Ivimey, volume 1.
[The Baptist Magazine, January, 1850, pp. 1-7. From Google Books On-line. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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