committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

 

Chapter 19

FIFTEEN HUNDRED TO SIXTEEN HUNDRED A.D.

 The Protestant Reformation

The sixteenth century is the reformation period of the Roman Church. During this century Martin Luther came forth from the Roman system, and with him many of the leaders of the Reformation in various countries. Many historians, in error, trace the history of the true church of God from the days of the apostles to the apostasy after the death of the apostles and disciples, and then assume that she was within the fold of the Roman church until the time of the Reformation, not realizing that God had protected the true church, and kept her separate and distinct from the apostate system during the entire Dark Ages, at the time of the rule of the apostate church. That the true church was in existence and distinct from the Reformers at the beginning of the Reformation, we may be assured from the following testimony of Jones:

"An attentive reader of the works of Luther and associates will easily perceive, that their minds labored under a somewhat similar mistake as to their own case. It was not without surprise they learned that there were numbers around them, in every country for a reform. It may also be added that Protestants in every succeeding age have but too implicitly imbibed their error. The blessed Lord hath never left Himself without witnesses in the world, and even during the reign of Antichrist, a period of the most general and awful defection from the purity of His worship, He had reserved to Himself thousands and tens of thousands of such as kept His commandments and faith of Jesus. Nor is there anything in this to occasion our surprise. The real followers of Christ are subjects of a kingdom that is not of this world; and, having no national establishments, nor aiming at worldly power, their principles and conduct have seldom been thought of as worthy of regard by the world, except in so far as their public testimony against it has subjected them to persecution. The true profession of Christianity leads its friends to cultivate peace and union among themselves, and, like its divine Author, to avoid all turbulence and faction in the state." Jones' Church History, p. 326, ed. 1837.

The Waldenses of Piedmont, in making petition to their sovereign for mercy from their persecutors, about 1559, made the following statement in their appeal: "They implored his highness to consider that their religious profession was not a thing of yesterday, as their adversaries falsely reported, but had been the profession of their fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers, yea, of their predecessors of still more ancient times, even of the martyrs, confessors, apostles, and prophets; and they called upon their adversaries to prove the contrary if they were able. Persuaded, therefore, as they were, that their religion was not a human invention, but founded upon the Word of God, which shall remain forever, they were confident that no human force would be able to extinguish it." -- Idem, p. 354.

"The Reformers (Luther, Calvin, Knox, and others) with all their zeal and learning, were babes in spiritual knowledge when compared with the Waldenses, particularly in regard to the nature of the kingdom of Christ, and its institutions, laws, and worship in general." -- Idem, p. 326.

"Four Bibles produced under Waldensian influence touched the history of Calvin: namely, a Greek, a Waldensian vernacular, a French, and an Italian. Calvin himself was led to his great work by Olivetan, a Waldensian. Thus was the Reformation brought to Calvin, that brilliant student of the Paris University." -- Wilkinson, Our Authorized Bible Vindicated, p. 37.

Luther said of the Waldenses "that among them he had found one thing worthy of admiration, a thing unheard of in the popish church, that, laying aside the doctrines of men, they meditated in the law of God day and night, and that they were expert, and even well versed, in the knowledge of the Scriptures." -- Jones' Church History, p. 263.

"In A.D. 1530 one of the pastors of the Waldenses, George Morel, published the memoir of his church. He said there were then 800,000." -- Idem, p. 440.

That these Waldensian descendants were the people of the true Church of God, and still retained her distinctive doctrines, and observed the seventh day as the Sabbath, as a part of the commandments of God, we have the following authoritative statements.

"Erasmus (1466-1536) wrote of Sabbatarians in Bohemia early in the Reformation, `Descendants of the Waldenses in Bohemia and Holland formed material for Sabbath-keeping churches, which appeared with the dawn of the Reformation.'" -- History by Lewis, pp. 317-320.

Chambers' Cyclopedia states that "many conscientious and independent thinkers in the reign of Elizabeth (1558-1603) advocated the seventh day."

The Sabbath Recorder of June 11, 1868, says: "In 1552 many in England were known as Sabbatarians."

Luther himself, while it is said believed in and practiced the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath, did not prescribe it in his articles of faith for his followers, in the copies that we now have access to. However, it has been said that in his original thesis, Luther advocated the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath, but that his colleagues objected on the grounds that it was an unpopular doctrine, which would have a tendency to repulse supporters of the Reformation who were not as pious as they should have been, but were of great assistance against the usurpations of the papacy.

Luther in his works has written of his belief in the Sabbath as follows:

"The Sabbath was before the Law of Moses came, and has existed from the beginning of the world. Especially have the devout, who have preserved the true faith, met together and called upon God on this day." -- Luther's Work, XXXV, p. 330.

As the Reformation became a success, many from among the ancient Waldensian churches of God were drawn over to the bodies of believers coming out of Rome's system under the Reformers, and left the main tenets of the faith held so dear by the Waldensian churches; but the Church of God itself, made up of the faithful who knew and practiced the truths maintained at the price of the lives of their foreparents in past centuries, kept the true gospel free from the corruptions that crept into doctrines of the new sects through the Reformers who came from among the Roman clergy.

The Baptist Cyclopedia (1881), states: "In 1530, according to Du Pin, the Waldenses united with Reformers, and were persuaded to renounce certain peculiarities which heretofore they held, and to receive doctrines which till then had been foreign to their creed. This new arrangement harmonized the reformations of the twelfth and sixteenth centuries."

"In the middle of the sixteenth century the breath of Protestantism from the north began to move over these Italian colonies. The pastors who visited them told them of the synod which had been held in Angrogna in 1532, and which had been as `the beginning of months' to the ancient church of the valleys. More glorious tidings still did they communicate to the Christians of Calabria. In Germany, in France, in Switzerland, and in Denmark the old gospel had blazed forth in a splendor unknown to it for ages. The Lamp of the Alps was no longer the one solitary light in the world: around it was a circle of mighty torches whose rays, blending with those of the old luminary, were combining to dispel the night from Christendom." -- Wylie, History of the Waldenses, p. 108.

 

Church Tribulations of the Past

"Jan Everts of Deventer was put to death at Middelburg, in the year 1535. He had been baptized at Hague by Meynart, a teacher of the church. He further confessed that his wife had been baptized at Delft, by Obbo of Leeuwarden; that for four years he had not gone to the sacrament of confession; that he did not believe God was himself present in the sacrament of the altar, but that it was only useful as a memorial of the sufferings and death of our Lord. The customs and institutions of the Church of Rome he did not esteem; and those of his fellow-believers whom he had seen put to death at Amsterdam, he held to be Christians, and as Christians had died. When promised forgiveness if he would repent, he steadfastly refused. Thus another witness of the truth was added to the martyred host of the Lamb.

"It has already been observed that a large emigration, numbering some thousands of the persecuted of the Tyrol, Switzerland, Austria, Styria, and Bavaria, took place about the year 1530, under the guidance of Jacob Hutter. The exiles found a refuge in Moravia. Soon after their settlement, King Frederic ordered their expulsion; but by the persuasion of the marshal, and from the expressed resolution of the people to make common cause with the refugees, the edict was withdrawn. Places of worship were now erected, farms purchased, the mutual advantages of commerce enjoyed, and families bound together by the closest and most endearing ties. Their numbers multiplied. The oppressed of many lands sought refuge and liberty of conscience in this land of peace. Again, an edict was issued for their expulsion, and its command sustained by military force. Time was, however, allowed for moving their removable property; but no entreaties prevailed to obtain permission for them to inhabit the villages they had built, or to reap the fruits of the harvest they had sown. They offered to pay tribute for their possessions, and for the enjoyment of liberty to worship God; but the offer was rejected, and they were mercilessly driven away.-- "The dense forests on the confines of Moravia afforded them a hiding place. Amid the dark alleys and shades, the minds of the wanderers were animated to patience, constancy, piety and devotion, by the exhortations of their leader. `Be ye thankful unto God,' ran the words of Hutter, 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 exile, and in persecutions: some in torments, in sufferings, and in martyrdoms, enjoyed the favor of their Lord. Sadness be far from you; put aside all grief and sorrow, reflect how great the rewards awaiting you for the afflictions ye now endure.' Hutter further addressed the following epistle to the marshal, in the name of all." -- Martyrology, London.

 

Address of Hutter to Marshal of Moravia, About 1530

From Martyrology, an old book by Brother George Van of London:

"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 of Moravia, having assembled together and abode under your jurisdiction, through the favor and protection of the most high God, to whom alone be praise, and 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 lives, 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 tranquillity, under thy protection. We have injured no one, we have occupied ourselves in heavy toil to 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 so 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, and punishment, and condemnation draw near, and will come upon them in terror and dismay, both in this life, and in 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 forthwith to depart into exile, let this be our answer. We know not any place where we may securely live; nor can we 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 raging lion. With us are many widows, and babes in their cradle, 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 needs, 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 depart; but rather than they should suffer injury we will endure 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 tranquillity. 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; and sooner than strike our enemy with the hand, much less with 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 greatly 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"-- From Martyrology, London.

 
 
The Reformed Reader Home Page 


Copyright 1999, The Reformed Reader, All Rights Reserved