committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

CHAPTER IV.

Baptists in Switzerland—Zuingli—Concessions of Bullinger and Meshovius—Disputations—
Drownings—Felix Mantz—Balthazar Hubmeyer—Louis Hetzer—Emigration to Moravia—Jacob Hutter.

 

The sketch which has been already furnished describes the position of the Baptists in Germany. We will now trace their history in Switzerland.

Zuingli, the excellent Swiss Reformer, was at one time on the eve of becoming a Baptist. But he resisted the arguments in favor of our principles, and became a violent opposer. The Government of Zurich adopted his policy. Zuingli was a good deal annoyed by the Baptists, for they not only pleaded for believer’s baptism, but zealously maintained that none but real Christians were fit members of churches. The natural inference was, that as spiritual societies could not be governed by carnal men, the union of Church and State must be dissolved, and each party attend to its own affairs: the State, to things temporal; the Church, to things religious. This was going too far for Zuingli. He repudiated the idea of a spiritual church, regarding it as a sheer impossibility. He could not relinquish the notion that worldly power and law were requisite for the establishment of the faith. Hence he concluded that the Baptist theory must be treated as resistance to authority, and its supporters put down by the secular arm. Poor man! he fell a victim to his own principles. He was slain on the battlefield of Cappel, while in official attendance, as chaplain, on the Protestant army, fighting against the Papists, October 11th, 1531.

It was about the year 1523 that the Baptists first appeared in Switzerland. Their numbers rapidly increased. The appeal to Scripture on behalf of their sentiments was rendered more forcible by the innocence of their lives. Even Bullinger, who was strongly prejudiced against them, was compelled to confess it. “ hey had,” said he, “an appearance of a spiritual life; they were excellent in cha?racter; they sighed much; they uttered no falsehoods; they were austere; they spake nobly and with excellence, so that they thereby acquired admiration and authority, or respect, with simple pious people. For the people said, ‘Let others say what they will of the Dippers, we see in them nothing but what is excellent, and hear from them nothing else but that we should not swear or do wrong to any one, that every one ought to do what is right, that every one must live godly and holy lives; we see no wickedness in them.’ Thus they have deceived many people in this land.” Me?shovius, adverting to the views of men at that time on this point, writes thus:—“Some they say, write what they wish of the Anabaptists; that they are given up to sedition, and plot the destruction of the Christian common weal. But how false this is, is clearly manifest from their lives, actions, and doctrine, since they neither swear, nor blaspheme, nor seek their own things; but you will see them promote those only which are of Christ, which are conformable to the Scriptures; and will any one say that these are not true, nor especially worthy of a Christian man?”1 

Public disputations were much in fashion at that time in Switzerland. They have rarely proved of any real service to the cause of truth, since it is obvious that the man who has the most fluent tongue, the readiest memory, the keenest wit, and the greatest amount of self-possession, is most likely to prevail, whether he is attached to the right or to the wrong side. Nor was it likely that either party would acknowledge defeat. Perhaps the only benefit that resulted from these disputations was, that many persons had an opportunity of hearing the truth who would not otherwise have enjoyed it, and in some instances they were led to further inquiry, which issued in their joining the Reformers.

Three disputations were held at Zurich in the year 1525. In all of them, according to their adversaries, the Baptists were worsted, notwithstanding which they resolutely retained their sentiments, and declared themselves ready to seal them with their blood. But the magistracy did not rely on arguments. They issued an edict, prohibiting believer’s baptism, enjoining the baptism of children, and threatening that the disobedient should be dealt with severely. And so they were. Some were imprisoned, some were banished. Still they persevered. Whereupon, in 1526, another edict was issued, ordering that if any baptized others, or submitted to baptism (re-baptism they called it), they should be “drowned without mercy.”2 Zuingli, we are sorry to say, approved this infamous enactment. It was no vain threat. Felix Mantz was drowned at Zurich in 1527. Jacob Falk and Heine Reyman were drowned in 1528. These three were ministers of the Gospel. Anneken of Friburg, a Christian woman, was drowned at that place in 1529, and her body was afterwards burnt. Many others suffered, whose names are not recorded. They did not inflict capital punishment at Basle, where the Baptists abounded, but they scourged them, threw them into dungeons, or banished them, hoping to wear them out by suffering. The great Erasmus resided there at that time. He bore honorable testimony on behalf of the sufferers. “The Anabaptists,” said he, “although they everywhere abound in great numbers, have nowhere obtained the churches for their use. They are to be commended above all others for the innocency of their lives, but are oppressed by other sects, as well as by the orthodox” (Catholics).3 Such were the men, according to an opponent, whom Protestants, as well as Papists, sought to exterminate. It is gratifying to know that though they were treated so shamefully, their characters would endure the scrutiny of keen-eyed observers.

We mentioned Felix Mantz. He was a native of Zurich, and had received a liberal education. Having early adopted the principles of the Reformation, he became an intimate friend of Zuingli and other Swiss Reformers. But in the year 1522, he began to doubt the scriptural authority of infant-baptism, and of the Church constitution which then existed at Zurich, and he suffered imprisonment in consequence. After this he preached in the fields and woods, whither the people flocked in crowds to hear him, and there he baptized those who professed faith. For this the Zurich magistrates denounced him as a rebel, and about the close of 1526 he was apprehended and lodged in the tower of Wellenberg. On the 5th of January, 1527, he was drowned. “As he came down from the Wellenberg to the fish market,” says Bullinger, “and was led through the shambles to the boat, he praised God that he was about to die for His truth. For Anabaptism was right, and founded on the Word of God, and Christ had foretold that His followers would suffer for the truth’s sake. And the like discourse he urged much, contradicting the preacher who attended him. On the way his mother and brother came to him, and exhorted him to be steadfast; and he persevered in his folly, even to the end. When he was bound upon the hurdle, and was about to be thrown into the stream by the executioner, he sang with a loud voice: ‘In manus Tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum.’ (‘Into Thine hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.’) And herewith was he drawn into the water by the executioner, and drowned.”

“It is reported here,” says Capito, writing to Zuingli from Strasburg, on the 27th of January, 1527, “that your Felix Mantz hath suffered punishment, and died gloriously; by which the cause of truth and piety which you sustain, is weighed down exceedingly.”4 No wonder! Persecution will “weigh down” any cause. And Protestant persecution is the most hateful of all.

Balthazar Hubmeyer requires a more lengthened notice. This eminent man was a Bavarian; born at Friedburg, about the year 1480. He studied in the high school of that city, intending to become a physician. But he exchanged the study of medicine for that of theology, and in 1512, being already noted for learning and eloquence, he was appointed professor of divinity and principal preacher at Ingolstadt, where he laboured between three and four years. In 1516 he removed to Ratisbon, and preached in the cathedral to immense throngs. His mistaken zeal was directed against the Jews, who were driven from the city, and their synagogue pulled down: on its site was built a chapel dedicated to the Virgin, and a wonder-working image placed over the door, to which vast numbers repaired in pilgrimage from the places adjacent. So blind was Hubmeyer at that time.

The blindness was not of long duration. The report of Luther’s movements and of Zuingli’s preaching at Einsidlen led him to inquiry, and the novelties of Rome were soon abandoned. Before he left Ratisbon he had made considerable progress in practical reformation. He had translated the Gospels and the Epistles into German. He celebrated service in that language instead of in Latin. He administered the Lord’s Supper in both kinds. He admonished the people to pray no more to the saints, and he destroyed images.

The next three years of his life were spent at Waldshut, a town in Baden, where he preached with great success. There also his religious views became matured, and he fully embraced Protestantism. In 1522 he returned to Ratisbon, and continued there a year, propagating the principles of the Reformation. When he resumed his residence at Waldshut, he formed an acquaintance with the Swiss reformers, particularly Zuingli and Ecolampadius, and enjoyed frequent opportunities of intercourse with them. He assisted in conducting the great disputation with the Papists at Zurich, in the autumn of 1523. A visit to St. Gall was attended by a wondrous manifestation of blessing. He preached the Word “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” His labors at Waldshut were so successful, that the other ministers yielded to the force of truth, and Romanism was abandoned. But Austrian influence was predominant in Baden, so that Hubmeyer soon found himself in a perilous position, and was compelled to seek concealment. After much suffering he repaired to Zurich, hoping to enjoy rest and refuge there.

But Zuingli was not now Hubmeyer’s friend. Hubmeyer’s researches had issued in the discovery that infant-baptism is only a human tradition. He had communicated his thoughts to Zuingli and Ecolampadius, who were also in a doubting state of mind on that subject, and had sought their assistance. They remained P?obaptists while he, following his convictions, took the final step, by which he was utterly estranged from his former brethren. He was baptized, with one hundred and ten others, in a village not far from Waldshut, by William Roubli, a Swiss Baptist. He himself baptized three hundred persons in the course of the next few months. A work on baptism, which he published about the same time, received a “virulent and violent” reply from Zuingli. “I believe and know,” Hubmeyer said, “ that Christendom shall not receive its rising aright, unless baptism and the Lord’s Supper are brought to their original purity.” Those were truthful words.

“About July, 1525, Hubmeyer entered Zurich, and sought a refuge at the Green Shield Hotel, with a few friends and faithful followers. His coming was soon known among his fellow-brethren, and soon also to the Council of Zurich. He was sought out, and immured in the cells of the Court-house. For many days and weeks Zuingli and his old associates endeavoured to shake his adhesion to the truth. At last the torture was applied. Protestant historians say a promise of recantation was willingly given and written with his own hand. Alas, how willingly! the pains of the rack were the sharp and effectual arguments. On the 22nd of December he is led to the minister, and placed at a desk facing that from which Zuingli long and vehemently declaims against the heresies his friend is there come to confess. The sermon is past, and every eye turns to the rising form of the sick Balthazar. Though not old, his trials have told on his robust frame; and with a quivering voice he begins to read from the paper of recantation before him. As his articulation becomes distinct, he is heard to affirm that infant-baptism is without the command of Christ. As the words continue to flow, and add certainty to the incredulous ears of the crowd in the thronged cathedral, murmurs float ominously in the resounding roof, increasing by degrees to audible expressions of approbation or of horror. Zuingli’s voice rises above all. He quiets the coming storm, and Hubmeyer is rapidly conveyed to his cell in the Wellenberg.”

“Redoubled efforts were afterwards made to recall the mischief that had been done. Probably renewed tortures were applied or threatened; for in a few months the sufferer is said to have made a public recantation, both at Zurich and St. Gall; but with so little satisfaction to his persecutors, that, although released from prison, he was kept in the town under strict surveillance. About the middle of the year 1526, by the aid of distant friends, he succeeded in escaping from Zurich, and, after preaching at Constance for a short time, he journeyed to Moravia, passing through Augsburg on his way. There he proclaimed the Gospel freely, and in all the region round about, baptizing many and forming churches of Christ after His Word.”

“In the year 1528 he was arrested, probably at Brunn, where he was teacher off the church, at the command of King Ferdinand, and sent to Vienna. After some days he was thrown into the dungeons of the castle of Gritsenstein. At his own request he was visited by Dr. Faber, of Gran, in Hungary, who had been in former days his friend. Their interviews, at which two other learned men assisted, lasted the greater part of three days. The substance of their discussions Faber afterwards published, and hints that on several points Hubmeyer yielded to the cogency of his arguments. A written exposition of his views was afterwards sent to King Ferdinand by Hubmeyer; but no material change in them could have taken place, since he was immediately sentenced to death. He steadfastly went to the scaffold, and on the 10th of March, 1528, from the midst of burning flames and embers, his spirit ascended to that region where those that have come out of great tribulation suffer and weep no more. The partner of his life was also partner of his sufferings: imprisoned with him, she, too, was led to Vienna, and in the river Danube found a watery grave.”5

Hubmeyer was a learned man. He published several valuable works, and has the honor of being placed in the Romish Prohibitory Index, in the first class of proscribed authors.

Louis Hetzer, another Baptist minister, was beheaded at Constance, on the 4th of February, 1529. He also had been on intimate terms with Zuingli, Ecolampadius, and their associates, and was highly esteemed by them till he became a Baptist. In conjunction with John Denk, he translated the Prophets from the Hebrew. Many other books were published by him. John Zwick, who was present at his death, said, “A more glorious and manful death was never seen at Constance. Very many of the opposite party who were present thought that he would have said something on account of our doctrine and against the preachers; but not a word. We were all with him to his end; and may the Almighty, the eternal God, grant to me and to the servants of His Word the like mercy, in the day when He shall call us home!” Thomas Blaurer, another witness, observed,—“ No one has with so much charity, so courageously, or so gloriously laid down his life for Anabaptism, as Hetzer. He was like one who spake with God and died.”6 Slanderous reports respecting him, affecting both his morals and his religious opinions, were propagated after his death;7 but they were the inventions of the enemy. “He was condemned,” says the Chronicle of the Moravian brethren, “for the sake of Divine truth.”

We cannot give any statistics. The Baptists of Switzerland were very numerous, not only in Zurich, but also in Berne, and in the Valteline. They were compelled to meet in secret, in woods and unfrequented places, or under cover of the night. No continuous records could be kept. Probably their church organizations were at that time very imperfect. It was not till a more advanced period of their history that they were enabled to secure the full benefits of orderly arrangements. But they did what they could. They obeyed the will of Christ as far as they had opportunity. Other Reformers opposed, and even calumniated them. But they were a God-fearing, peaceable, upright, and holy people.

The persecution was so fierce in Germany and Switzerland, that there seemed to be no safety but in emigration. In the year 1530 many thousands of Baptists, inhabitants. of the Tyrol, Switzerland, Austria, Styria, and Bavaria, emigrated under the leadership of Jacob Hutter, and settled in Moravia. They bought farms, erected places of worship, and enjoyed for a time great prosperity, spiritually and temporally. Many other exiles joined them, so that their numbers continually increased. But in 1535 Ferdinand, King of Bohemia, ordered their expulsion, and sent a military force to carry the order into effect. Their property was seized, and all the indulgence they could obtain was liberty to carry away their movables. They withdrew into the forests, and there lived as they could, worshipped God, and possessed their souls in patience. Hutter exhorted and comforted them. “Be ye thankful unto God,” he said, “that ye are counted worthy to suffer persecutions and cruel exile for His name. These are the rewards of the elect in the prison-house of this world, the proofs of your heavenly Father’s approbation. Thus did His people Israel suffer in Egypt, in the desert, and in Babylon. Thus have Apostles and all the followers of the Lamb, some in prisons, in exile, and in persecutions, some in torments, in suffer?ings, and in martyrdoms, enjoyed the favor of their Lord, and have passed the more quickly to the paradise above. Sadness be far from you; put aside all grief and sorrow; reflect how great the rewards awaiting you for the afflic?tions ye now endure.”

Jacob Hutter’s letter to the Marshal of Moravia, written in the name of the brethren, is worthy of an imperishable record. We will copy it entire, that the reader may see what manner of men the Baptists of the sixteenth century were.

“We brethren, who love God and His Word, the true witnesses of our Lord Jesus Christ, banished from many countries for the name of God and for the cause of Divine truth, and have hither come to the land Moravia, having assembled together and abode under your jurisdiction, through the favor and protection of the Most High God, to Whom alone be praise, honor, and laud for ever, we beg you to know, honored ruler of Moravia, that your officers have come unto us, and have delivered your message and command, as indeed is well known to you. Already have we given a verbal answer, and now we reply in writing, viz., that we have forsaken the world, an unholy life, and all iniquity. We believe in Almighty God, and in His Son our Lord Jesus Christ, Who will protect us henceforth and for ever in every peril, and to Whom we have devoted our entire selves, our life, and all that we possess, to keep His commandments, and to forsake all unrighteousness and sin. Therefore we are persecuted and despised by the whole world, and robbed of all our property, as was done aforetime to the holy prophets, and even to Christ Himself. By King Ferdinand, the prince of darkness, that cruel tyrant and enemy of Divine truth and righteousness, many of our brethren have been slaughtered and put to death without mercy, our property seized, our fields and homes laid waste, ourselves driven into exile, and most fearfully persecuted.”

“After these things we came into Moravia, and here for some time have dwelt in quietness and tranquility, under thy protection. We have injured no one, we have occupied ourselves in heavy toil, which all men can testify. Notwithstanding, with thy permission, we are driven by force from our possessions and our homes. We are now in the desert, in woods, and under the open canopy of heaven; but this we patiently endure, and praise God that we are counted worthy to suffer for His name. Yet for your sakes we grieve that you should thus wickedly deal with the children of God. The righteous are called to suffer; but alas! woe, woe to all those who without reason persecute us for the cause of Divine truth, and inflict upon us so many and so great injuries, and drive us from them as dogs and brute beasts. Their destruction, punishments, and condemnation draw near, and will come upon them in terror and dismay, both in this life, and that which is to come. For God will require at their hands the innocent blood which they have shed, and will terribly vindicate His saints according to the words of the prophets.”

“And now that you have with violence bidden us forth with to depart into exile, let this be our answer. We know not any place where we may securely live; nor can we any longer dare here to remain for hunger and fear. If we turn to the territories of this or that sovereign, everywhere we find an enemy. If we go forward, we fall into the jaws of tyrants and robbers, like sheep before the ravening wolf and the raging lion. With us are many widows, and babes an their cradles, whose parents that most cruel tyrant and enemy of Divine righteousness, Ferdinand, gave to the slaughter, and whose property he seized. These widows, and orphans, and sick children, committed to our charge by God, and whom the Almighty hath commanded us to feed, to clothe, to cherish, and to supply all their need, who cannot journey with us, nor, unless otherwise provided for, can long live—these we dare not abandon. We may not overthrow God’s law to observe man’s law, although it cost gold, and body, and life. On their account we cannot de?part; but rather than they should suffer injury we will endure any extremity even to the shedding of our blood. Besides, here we have houses and farms, the property that we have gained by the sweat of our brow, which in the sight of God and men are our just possession: to sell them we need time and delay. Of this property we have urgent need in order to support our wives, widows, orphans, and children, of whom we have a great number, lest they die of hunger. Now we lie in the broad forest, and, if God will, without hurt. Let but our own be restored to us, and we will live as we have hitherto done, in peace and tranquility. We desire to molest no one, nor to prejudice our foes, not even Ferdinand the King. Our manner of life, our customs and conversation, are known everywhere to all. Rather than wrong any man of a single penny, we would suffer the loss of a hundred gulden [worth twenty pence sterling each], and sooner than strike our enemy with the hand, much less with sword, or spear, or halbert, as the world does, we would die and surrender life. We carry no weapon, neither spear nor gun, as is clear as the open day; and they who say that we have gone forth by thousands to fight, they lie, and impiously traduce us to our rulers. We complain of this injury before God and man, and grieve that the number of the virtuous is so small. We would that all the world were as we are, and that we could bring and convert all men to the same belief; then should all war and unrighteousness have an end.”

“We answer further: that if driven from this land there remains no refuge for us, unless God shall show us some special place whither to flee. We cannot go. This land, and all that therein is, belongeth to the God of heaven and if we were to give a promise to depart, perhaps we should not be able to keep it; for we are in the hand of God, who does with us what He will. By Him we were brought hither, and peradventure He would have us here and not elsewhere to dwell, to try our faith and our con?stancy by persecutions and adversity. But if it should appear to be His will that we depart hence, since we are persecuted and driven away, then will we, even without your command, not tardily but with alacrity, go whither God shall send us. Day and night we pray unto Him that He will guide our steps to the place where He would have us dwell. We cannot and dare not withstand His holy will; nor is it possible for you, however much you may strive. Grant us but a brief space; peradventure our Heavenly Father will make known to us His will, whether we are here to remain, or whether we must go. If this be done, you shall see that no difficulty, however great it may be, shall deter us from the faith.”

“Woe, woe! unto you, O ye Moravian rulers, who have sworn to that cruel tyrant and enemy of God’s truth, Fer?dinand, to drive away His pious and faithful servants. Woe! we say unto you, who fear more that frail and mortal man than the living, omnipotent, and eternal God, and chase from you, suddenly and inhumanly, the children of God, the afflicted widow, the desolate orphans, and scatter them abroad. Not with impunity will ye do this; your oaths will not excuse you, or afford you any subterfuge. The same punishment and torments that Pilate endured will overtake you, who, unwilling to crucify the Lord, yet from fear of Caesar adjudged Him to death. God, by the mouth of the prophet, proclaims that He will fearfully and terribly avenge the shedding of innocent blood, and will not pass by such as fear not to pollute and contaminate their hands therewith. Therefore great slaughter, much misery and anguish, sorrow and adversity, yea, everlasting groaning, pain, and torment, are daily appointed you. The Most High will lift His hand against you, now and eternally. This we announce to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; for verily it will not tarry, and shortly ye shall see that we have told you nothing but the truth of God, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and are witnesses against you, and against all who set at nought His commandments. We beseech you to forsake iniquity, and to turn to the living God with weeping and lamentation, that you may escape all these woes.”

“We earnestly entreat you, submissively, and with prayers, that you take in good part all these our words. For we testify and speak what we know, and have learnt to be true in the sight of God. We speak from a pure mind filled with the love of God, and from that true Christian affection which we follow after before God and men. Farewell.”8

The oppressor was melted for once. The order was recalled, and the Baptists enjoyed peace and freedom for some time longer. But in 1547 their expulsion was effected, with indescribable misery and loss.

 

1  Quoted in Martyrology, i. pp. 7, 8.

2  Martyrology, i. p. 121.

3  Letter to the Archbishop of Toulouse, Ibid. i. p. 165.

4  Martyrology, i. pp. 12-16.

5  Martyrology, i. pp. 61-75.

6  Martyrology, i. 97-101.

7  These calumnies are repeated in the North British Review for May, 1839, Art. ‘‘Socinianism.” The writer ought to have known that they were not published till after Hetzer’s death.

8  Martyrology, i. pp. 149-153.

 
 
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