committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

CHAPTER V.

The Netherlands—Sicke Snyder—Furious Edict—The Inquisition—Severities of Philip II.—Torture—Lysken—Gerrit Hase-poot—Joris Wippe—Private Executions—Horrid Rackings.

 

In the year 1525 many of the Baptists took refuge in the Netherlands, hoping to be able to serve God there in quietness. They might have done so, perhaps, if they could have refrained from preaching the Gospel, and had forborne to propagate their distinctive tenets. But that was impossible. In the spirit of Apostolic Christianity, they “went everywhere preaching the Word.” Numbers listened, were converted, baptized, and joined the persecuted sect, at Amsterdam, Antwerp, Haarlem, and other places. Then the hand of oppression was heavy upon them. The Emperor Charles V., to whose dominions the Netherlands belonged, directed that the heretics should be treated with unsparing severity, and that the Baptists should be singled out for special vengeance. The first martyr whose name is recorded was “Weynken Claes’ daughter of Monickendam, a widow,” who was strangled at the stake and then burnt, at the Hague, Nov. 20, 1527. She went to the place of execution “cheerfully, as if she were going to a festival.” Her last words were, “I cleave to God.”1   In the same year Jan Walen, and two others, were put to death at Haarlem. “Being bound to stakes with chains, and a fire being laid around them, they were slowly roasted, till the marrow was seen to ooze from the bones of their legs. They were thus burnt and roasted upwards, until death came to their release.”2

Sicke Snyder (that is, Sicke, the tailor, his proper name being Freerks) was beheaded at Leeuwarden, in 1531. He had “received Christian baptism on confession of his faith, as a token of being a regenerate child of God, according to the instructions of Christ, seeking thus to live and to walk in obedience to his Maker. For this he became a prisoner in bonds at Leeuwarden, in Friesland, and experienced much suffering from the adversaries to the truth. And since he could by no torments be brought to apostatize, he was at the same place executed by the sword, displaying great firmness, bearing testimony to the true faith, and confirming it by his death and blood . . . His sentence is thus recorded in the Criminal Sentence Book of the Court of Friesland: —‘Sicke Freerks, on this 20th of March, 1531, is condemned by the Court to be executed with the sword; his body shall be laid on the wheel, and his head set upon a stake, because he has been rebaptized, and perseveres in that baptism.’”3

In 1532, three persons were burned at the Hague. They were “fastened with chains to stakes, and a great fire having been made around them, they were roasted till they expired.” At Amsterdam, “nine men were taken out of their beds by night, upon suspicion of Anabaptism, hurried away to the Hague, and after they had been imprisoned a fortnight, were there beheaded by order of the Emperor. Their bodies were buried, but their heads put into a herring barrel and sent to Amsterdam, where they were set upon stakes.”4 By edicts published in the following year all persons were forbidden to harbor Baptist preachers in Holland; and obstinate Baptists, that is, those who refused to recant, were doomed to suffer the utmost penalty of the law. In obedience to these edicts the work of cruelty went on.

On the 10th of June, 1535, a furious edict was published at Brussels. Death by fire was the punishment of all Baptists who should be detected and should refuse to abjure. If they recanted they were still to die, but not by fire; the men were to be put to death by the sword, “the women in a sunken pit.” Those who resisted the operation of the edict by failing to deliver up Baptists to the authorities, were to suffer the same punishment as accomplices. Informers were promised one-third of the confiscated estates. And all persons were forbidden “to claim or seek any grace, forgiveness, or reconciliation for the said Anabaptists, or re-baptizers, or to present, on their behalf, any petitions or bequests;—it being understood,” says the Emperor, “that it is not our will, nor will we permit, that any Anabaptists, or re-baptizers (because of their wicked opinions), shall be received into favor, but be punished as a warning to others, without any dissimulation, favor, or delay.”5

A similar edict was published in September, 1540. And a novel experiment was adopted. The portraits of the principal Reformers, Baptists included, were placed at the gates of the cities, and in other public situations, that recognition and seizure might be more easily made. Large rewards were also offered for the apprehension of the ministers.6

The Inquisition was introduced into the Netherlands by Charles V. in 1550. Great consternation was excited, and some of the towns absolutely refused to publish the edict. So powerful were the remonstrances, that the Emperor consented to modify the provisions of the edict in certain respects; but there was no relaxation of severity towards the Baptists. “Protestants and Papists united to oppress and persecute them.”7

When Philip II. succeeded his father, Charles V., on the abdication of the latter, in the year 1556, he renewed the edict of 1550, with additional articles. The publication of Baptist books was prohibited, and the right of disposing of their property, by sale or will, was taken away. Nor were magistrates or judges to moderate or lessen the penalties in the slightest degree.8 In 1560, and again in 1563, these edicts were renewed and still further extended, so that there might be no possibility of escape. An abstract of the proclamation issued in the last-mentioned year will serve to show the perilous state of society in the Netherlands at that time. “No persons were to remove from Flanders to Holland without certificates from the priests and magistrates. Every settler was required to furnish proof that his children had been baptized according to the rites of Rome. Midwives were to be sworn to secure the christening of every infant at whose birth they might be present, and in case of any neglect to report it to the magistrates. Conventicles were to be diligently sought out and repressed. Parents were ordered to send their children to church and to school. Booksellers’ houses and peddlers’ packs were to be searched for heretical publications. All the people were enjoined to attend mass every Sunday and holiday. A month’s continuous absence was to be punished at the discretion of the judges. No persons suspected of heresy were to be placed in offices of trust. In addition, as before stated, all the former enactments respecting burning, beheading, drowning, and burying alive, remained in full force.”9

The records of this period are truly heart-sickening. It is wonderful that any Baptists survived. And yet it is the fact that they were becoming stronger and stronger. Menno Simon, whose public labors commenced in 1537, preached, baptized, formed churches, published books, and traveled extensively, often exposed to great peril, as will be here?after related; nevertheless, though a price was set on his head, the designs of the enemy were defeated, and Menno died in peace. Many other ministers were indefatigable in their zeal, among whom Dirk Philips and Leonard Bouwens deserve most honorable mention.

The Baptist Martyrology contains distinct notices of about four hundred brethren and sisters who were barbarously put to death in Holland and Flanders under the operation of the aforesaid edicts. The misery and ruin which befell their families cannot be described. Numbers more suffered, of whom no account has been preserved. It was a season of “great tribulation.”

Tjaert Reynerson, “a godly farmer,” was beheaded at Leeuwarden in 1539, because he had “from compassion and brotherly love secretly harbored Menno Simon in his house in his great distress.” He was frequently examined by torture before his execution, but would neither betray his minister nor deny the faith.10

Jan Claeson had forwarded the printing and publication of Menno Simon’s works. For this he was condemned “to be executed by the sword; his body to be laid upon the wheel; the head set on a stake.” Bestevaer, an aged brother, suffered with him. “The beloved brother, Jan Claeson, confirmed the Word of God with his crimson blood, and was afterwards given for food to the birds and wild beasts . . . The aged Bestevaer, numbering eighty-seven years, likewise willingly resigned his gray head and beard to the stroke of these tyrants’ sword for the truth of Jesus Christ. They now rest together under the altar.11

A number of Baptists met in secret at Rotterdam, in 1554, “to speak to each other for mutual edification and establishment in the truth of the holy Gospel which they had received; likewise, with one mouth and lowly hearts to pray to the great God of heaven and earth for the forgiveness of their sins, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, and also with one accord to praise and thank His most adorable name.” They were betrayed, apprehended, tortured, and then put to death; the men, by the sword; the women were “thrown into a boat, and thrust under the ice till death followed.” One of them was “a young female only fourteen years old.” She composed the hymn which is found in the old hymn-book, beginning

“To the wide world Immanuel came,
His Father’s Kingdom left,” &c.12

Richst Heynes was martyred in 1547. When the officers were sent to the house, her husband escaped. “But her they severely treated and cruelly bound, without any pity or compassion, although pregnant, and so near her confinement that the midwife was already with her. Notwithstanding all this they led her away, regardless of the tears and screams of her little children, to the prison at Leeuwarden, where, after three weeks’ imprisonment, she was delivered of a son . . . They afterwards inflicted great torments on this sheep of Christ, and tortured her to such a degree that she could not raise her hands to her head. Thus was she treated in the inhuman rack, chiefly because she would not give evidence against her brethren. For these wolves were in nowise satisfied, but still thirsted for more innocent blood. But the faithful God, who is a refuge in time of need, and a shield for all those who trust in Him, guarded her mouth, so that no one suffered through her. After all means had thus failed to separate her from Christ, she was condemned at the place above-named, and like a brute beast was put into a sack, and plunged under water until life was extinct.”13

The torture was constantly resorted to, either to force a recantation or to procure the discovery of the hiding-places of the brethren. The victims were stretched on the rack; or suspended by the hands, heavy weights being attached to the feet; or the thumb screws were employed; or a similar instrument applied to the ankles. The demons who inflicted these tortures paid no regard to sex, station, or age. The delicate maiden, the honored minister, the venerable confessor of threescore and ten and upwards, were alike subjected to the brutal test.

In the year 1551, Jeronimus Segerson and another were burned at Antwerp. Segerson’s letters, written while in prison, breathe a spirit of exalted piety and manly endurance. “I had rather,” said he, “be tortured ten times every day, and then finally be roasted on a gridiron, than renounce the faith I have confessed.”

Lysken, Segerson’s wife, was drowned. The narrative of her examination and death is so interesting that we transcribe the greater portion of it.

“Lysken, our sister, having long lain in bonds, has at last finished the period of her pilgrimage, remaining perfectly steadfast in the Word of the Lord even to the end; the Lord be for ever praised. She very boldly and undisguisedly confessed her faith at the tribunal, before the magistrates and the multitudes. They first asked her concerning baptism. She said, ‘I acknowledge but one baptism, even that which was used by Christ and His disciples, and left to us.’ ‘What do you hold concerning infant-baptism?’ asked the sheriff. To which Lysken answered, ‘Nothing but a mere infant’s baptism, and a human institution.’ On this the bench stood up, and consulted together, while Lysken, in the mean time, confessed and explained clearly to the people the ground of her belief. They then pronounced sentence upon her. Lysken spoke in the following manner to the bench: ‘Ye are now judges; but the time will come when you will wish that ye had been keepers of sheep, for there is a judge and Lord who is above all; He shall in His own time judge you. But we have not to wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, powers, and rulers of the darkness of this world.’ The bench said, ‘Take her away from the tribunal.’”

“The people then ran earnestly to see her, and Lysken spoke piously to them. ‘Know that I do not suffer for robbery, or murder, or any kind of wickedness, but solely for the incorruptible Word of God.’”

She was then re-conducted to the prison, where two monks visited her, and endeavored, but in vain, to turn her from the faith. Next morning she suffered.

“On Saturday morning we rose early, some before day, some with the daylight, to see the nuptials which we thought would then be celebrated; but the crafty murderers outran us. We had slept too long, for they had finished their murderous work between three and four o’clock. They had taken that sheep to the Scheldt, and had put her into a sack, and drowned her before the people arrived, so that few persons saw it. Some, however, saw it. She went courageously to death, and spoke bravely: ‘Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit.’ Thus she was delivered up, and it came to pass, to the honor of the Lord, that by the grace of God many were moved thereby.”

“When the people assembled, and heard that she was already dead, it occasioned a great commotion amongst them, for it grieved them as much as if she had been publicly executed. For the people said, ‘Thieves and murderers they bring publicly before all men; but their treachery is thus more manifest.’ Some simple-hearted people asked, ‘Why must these persons die, for many bear a good testimony concerning them?’ Some of the friends were present, and spoke openly to the people,—‘The reason is, that, they are more obedient to God’s command than to the Emperor’s, or men’s; because they have heartily turned to the Lord their God, from lies to truth, from darkness to light, from unrighteousness to righteousness, from unbelief to the true faith, and have accordingly amended: their lives, and been baptized, seeing they were true believers, according to the command of Christ and the practice of the Apostles.’ They further showed the people, from the Word of God, that the Papists are they of whom the Apostle Paul prophesied, namely, the seducing spirits who teach the doctrines of devils; and   moreover, that the righteous have had to suffer from the beginning, from the time of Abel to the present; that Christ also suffered and entered into the glory of His Father, and left us an example that we should follow in His footsteps; for ‘all that will live godly in Christ Jesus must suffer persecution.’”14

Gerrit Hase-poot lived at Nymegen. During the heat of the persecution he fled to another place. After a time he returned to fetch his wife and children, but was seen by one of the sheriff’s officers, who gave information to his master, on which he was taken into custody and condemned to die. “After his condemnation,” says the historian, “his wife came to the Town Hall to speak to him once more, to take her leave of him and to say adieu to her beloved husband, carrying a little child on her arm, which, for sorrow, she was scarcely able to support. When wine was presented to him (according to the custom of giving wine to those who were sentenced to death), he said to his wife, ‘I desire not this wine, but hope to drink new wine, and to receive it above in my Father’s house.’ With great sorrow they were separated from each other, bidding each other adieu in this world (for the wife could not longer stand, but became faint from grief). He was then led to death. On being taken from the wagon to the scaffold, he raised his voice, and sang the hymn—

‘Father of heaven, on Thee I call,
O strengthen Thou my faith.’

He then fell upon his knees and made his earnest prayer to God. When fastened to the stake, he threw the slippers from his feet, saying, ‘It were a pity to burn these, for they may be of service to some poor, person !’ The strap with which he was to be strangled coming loose, not having been properly fastened by the executioner, he again lifted up his voice and sang the rest of the above hymn—

‘Farewell, ye saints, farewell;
What, if I meet this end!
Ere long the Lord shall come,
Our only Leader, Friend:
Joyous I wait the glorious day,
With you to walk in white array.’

The executioner having adjusted the cord, this witness for Jesus fell asleep, and was then burnt.”15

At the martyrdom of Joriaen Simons and Clement Dirks, at Haarlem, in 1557, there was a great burning of books. Joriaen was a colporteur, and had circulated a large number of Baptist works. “But when it was observed that the books began to blaze, such a tumult arose among the people, that the magistrates hastily departed. The people then threw the books amongst the crowd, who most eagerly caught them. Thus, through the providence of God, instead of the truth being extinguished, as was intended, it was the more spread by the reading of so great a number of these books.”16

At length, even magistrates and executioners grew weary of the work, and disgusted at the cruelty of the bloodthirsty inquisitors. An instance of this occurred in 1558. Joris Wippe was a burgomaster at Menin, in Flanders. When he became a Baptist, he was obliged to leave that place. He settled at Dort, in Holland, engaged in business as a fuller, and was much esteemed by his fellow-citizens. When the magistrates were informed of his being a Baptist, and were compelled to take proceedings against him, they did all in their power to prevent his death; but the higher authorities overruled them. “When Joris was sentenced to die, the executioner lamented, with weeping eyes, that he must put a man to death who had often fed his wife and children, and would rather be discharged from his office than execute a man who had done him and others so much good, and never any harm. Joris was finally drowned in the prison by night, in a cask filled with water, by one of the thief-takers, who, at the magistrate’s direction, performed the office of executioner, and threw him backwards into the water. Thus he offered up his body to the Lord on the 1st of October, in the forty-first year of his age. The next day his body was suspended by the legs on a high gibbet, at the place of execution, for the sport of the people. Like his Master, Christ, he had to be numbered with the transgressors. The day following, some malefactors were whipped and banished. The executioner, after executing justice on these, said, ‘They crucified Christ, but Barabbas they released.’”17

Sometimes the execution took place privately, within the precincts of the prison. Andries Langedul and two others were beheaded at Antwerp in 1559, “not publicly, but in the prison. The other prisoners (of whom there were then many) could see it through the windows of their cells. When Andries knelt to receive the stroke of the sword, he put his hands together, saying, ‘Father, into Thy hands I commend’—but ‘I commend my spirit’ was not perfectly uttered, the rapid stroke of the sword prevented it.” Several were drowned in the same city, the year following. “Peter Gomer the mason and Jacot the goldsmith, for the name of Christ, were drowned together in a tub.” Lenaert Plovier and two young females “were thrust into sacks, put into wine casks, and drowned by night in prison.”18

Joos Verbeek, “a minister of God’s Word and His Church,” suffered at Antwerp in 1561. He was racked twice in four days. He was scourged till the blood flowed. His right hand having been “lamed by torture,” his last letter to his wife was written with his left hand, “with great difficulty.” He was burnt in a straw hut, as was the common practice towards the end of the persecution. It was probably adopted to prevent bystanders from witness?ing the manner in which the servants of God met death, and thus to repress all manifestations of sympathy. The martyrs were fastened to stakes inside the huts, and stran?gled, after which fire was applied, and the huts and the bodies were burnt together.19

Thirteen brethren and sisters who were apprehended at Hallewin, on information given by a priest, and committed to prison at Lille (then called Ryssel), were shortly after?wards all burnt alive, at three separate times. Jan de Swarte, a minister, his wife, and four sons, were of the number. “When Jan de Swarte was apprehended, the two youngest sons were not at home, but came in during the time. As they were approaching the house, the neighbors warned them, and told them who were in the house, and that their father and mother were arrested. The one said to the other, ‘Let us not run away, but die with father and mother.’ Meanwhile Jan de Swarte was led out of the house a prisoner, and seeing his sons said to them, ‘Children, will you go with me to the New Jerusalem?’ They said ‘Yes, father, we will;’ and they were led captive with them. All these were conducted prisoners together to Ryssel, and there strictly guarded in the castle. Jan was placed by himself in a dungeon called Paradise. It was so small that he could not stand upright in it, nor lie down at full length.”

“It happened one day, that several brethren and sisters (moved by love and compassion) came from outside the town, and stood over against the castle, calling out over the fortification, and comforting the prisoners. Amongst them was a brother named Herman. Being observed by one of the city officers, who had gone out secretly, he, also was apprehended.”

“After ten days’ imprisonment, Jan de Swarte, his son Klaes, and four others, were executed. While going to death, the clock struck. Jan asked what it was o’clock. He was told four. On this he comforted himself, saying, ‘By five o’clock we hope to be in our lodge, or rest.”’

A few days afterwards, Klaesken, Jan de Swarte’s wife, with her three sons, and Herman, were burnt alive. The remaining two suffered a year’s imprisonment, when they also were “cast alive into the fire, and burnt to ashes.”

The priest who had betrayed them “was very severely punished. For his flesh became so putrefied, that pieces fell off from his body, or were sometimes cut off, and no cure could be found for it . . . While he was lying ill, a man came to visit him. When the priest complained of his great misery, the man said to him, ‘It is the coals of the fire at Ryssel.’ This greatly displeased the priest; but he was obliged to endure such scoffing, as well as the punishments with which God had visited him. He at last died most miserably, as was of old the case with Antiochus and Herod.”20

I will add only one more case. Christian Langedul, with three others, were burned at Antwerp in 1567. In his letters to his wife he gives an account of the manner in which they were tortured:—

“We were all four, one after the other, sorely racked, so that we have at present little inclination to write . . . Cornelius was the first taken: then Hans Symons . . . It was next my turn. You may conceive how I felt. As I approached the rack near the gentlemen, I was ordered to strip or to say where I lived, I looked sorrowful, as you may suppose. I said, ‘Will you ask me any more questions besides that ?’ They were silent. I then thought, ‘I know how it must be; they will not spare me.’ I therefore undressed, and gave myself up to the gentlemen, fully prepared to die. They now cruelly racked me. I think two cords fastened on my thighs and legs broke. They also drenched me with water, pouring it into my mouth and nose. After releasing me, they inquired if I would now speak. They entreated me; then menaced me; but I did not open my mouth. God had shut it. They then said, ‘Give him another taste of it.’ This they did, calling out, ‘Away, away; stretch him another foot.’ I thought, ‘You can but kill me.’ While thus lying stretched out, drawn by cords on my head and chin, and on my thighs and legs, they said, ‘Speak, speak.’ They now chatted with one another about the account which J. T. had prepared of my linen, which amounted to six hundred and fifty pounds, the sum it would fetch by auction . . . Again I was asked, ‘Will you not speak ?’ I kept my mouth closed. They said, ‘Say where you live, and where your wife and children are.’ But I said not a word. ‘What a dreadful thing!’ said they in French; but I replied not, for the Lord kept the door of my lips. After they had long tried to make me speak, they at last released me.

“Matthew was tortured after me. He named his own house, and the street where we live. He also said that we lived in a gateway, and I think there is no other gateway in the street but ours. You had better, therefore, immediately remove, if you have not left, for I think the magistrates will go there. Let no one go to the house who is in any danger of apprehension. He also mentioned the house of R. T., and the street in which F. V. lives. Do immediately the best you can in this matter. He is very sorry that he did so. Cornelius and Hans did not disclose anything.

“We were afraid that the margrave would come to torture Cornelius once more, and we also feared that we should again be tortured. We tremble much at the prospect, for the pain is frightful; we do not fear death near so much. Cornelius was so racked and scourged the second time that it required three men to carry him upstairs, who say that he could scarcely move a limb, only his tongue. He sent to us to say that if they come to him again he thinks that he must sink under it. As the margrave did not come yesterday, we expect him here today. The Lord help us! for the pain is excruciating!”21

While these horrible scenes were enacted, the Baptists of the Netherlands persevered in the faith. Neither fires nor floods appalled them. Menno Simon and other bold-spirited men risked their lives continually in the service of the Gospel. They were always traveling from place to place, and by their itinerant labors an immense amount of good was accomplished. Converts were baptized and added to the churches in every part of the country. The servants of God were confirmed in the faith, useful publications were scattered abroad, and Anabaptism, as it was called, like the bush which Moses saw, though it was “burned with fire, was not consumed.”

 

1   Martyrology, pp. 40-44.

2  Ibid. P. 45.

3   Martyrology, i. p. 136.

4  Ibid. pp. 133, 134.

5   Martyrology, i. pp. 138-140.

6   Martyrology, p. 207.

7  Ibid. i. p. 364.

8  Ibid. ii. pp. 64-69.

9   Martyrology, pp, 269, 342.

10  Ibid. i. p. 207.

11   Martyrology, p. 262.

12  Ibid. p. 263.

13   Martyrology, p. 292.

14   Martyrology, ii. pp. 427-431.

15   Martyrology, ii. p. 93.

16  Ibid. ii. p. 108.

17   Martyrology, p. 143.

18  Ibid. pp. 250, 271, 272.

19   Martyrology, ii. p. 304.

20   Martyrology, pp. 338-341.

21   Martyrology, ii. pp. 426-438.

 
 
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