Menno Simons on ... the liberty of conscience

Say, kind reader, where, in all the days of your life, did you read in the apostolic Scriptures, that Christ or the apostles requested the authority of the magistracy to punish those who would not hear their doctrine or obey their words? Yea, reader, I know to a certainty, that wherever the magistracy is to maintain the ban by the force of the sword, there are not the true knowledge, Spirit, word and church of Christ. [p. 71]

I repeat, if we are disobedient to God in religious matters, we are willing to be instructed and corrected by the word of God; for we mean diligently to do and fulfill his most holy will. Or if we are not obedient unto the emperor in matters belonging to him as he is called and ordained of God, I say in matters belonging to him, then we will willingly submit to such punishment as you may inflict upon us. But if we sincerely fear and seek our Lord and God, as I trust we do, and if we are obedient unto the emperor in temporal matters, as we should be according to the word of God, Matt. 22:21; Rom. 13:7; 1 Pet. 2:13; Tit. 3:1, and are yet to suffer and be persecuted and crucified for the sake of the truth of the Lord – then we should consider that “the disciple is not above his master nor the servant above his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household?" Matt. 10:24, 25. Yet you should know and acknowledge, O ye beloved, noble, illustrious, pious lords, ye judges and keepers of the law, that as often as you take, condemn and put to the sword such people, that you put your tyrannical sword into the blessed flesh of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that you break the bones of his holy body; for they are flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone, Eph. 5:30; they are his chosen, beloved brethren and sisters, who are with him, born from above, of one Father, Jn. 1:13; they are his sincerely beloved children who are born of the seed of his holy word; they are his holy, spotless and pure bride whom he, in his great love has wedded as his consort. Why? Because they have, by the operation of their faith, and led by the Holy Spirit, cordially committed themselves to the service of our beloved Lord Jesus Christ, and do not live any more according to their lusts, but agreeably to the will of God, alone, according to the direction of his holy, blessed word. Yea, they would rather surrender every thing which they possess, and suffer envy, slander, scourging, persecution, anxiety, famine, thirst, nakedness, cold, heat, poverty, imprisonment, banishment, water, fire, sword or any other punishment than to forsake the gospel of grace and the confession of God and be separated from the love of Christ Jesus, Rom 8:35. But they will never accept the vain doctrine and commandments of men. [pp. 229-230]

Christ Jesus and his powerful word and Holy Spirit is the protector and defender of his church; and not the emperor, king, or any worldly potentate.The kingdom of the Spirit must be protected and defended by the sword of the Spirit, and not by the sword of the world. This is too clear to be controverted, according to the doctrine and example of Christ and his apostles.

I would further say, If the magistracy rightly understood Christ and his kingdom, they would, in my opinion, rather choose death, than to meddle with their worldly power and sword in spiritual matters, which are not subject to the judgment of man, but to the judgment of the great and Almighty God alone. But they are taught by their pastors that they should proscribe, imprison, torture and slay those who are not obedient to their doctrine, as may, alas, be seen in many different cities and countries. [p. 104]

Behold, beloved rulers and judges, if you take to heart these cited Scriptures and diligently reflect upon them, you will observe, first, that your office is not your own but God's office and service, that you may bend your knees before his Majesty; fear his great and adorable Name and rightly and reasonably execute your ordained office; and that you may not thus freely usurp the kingdom, dominion and jurisdiction of Christ, and judge and punish by your iron swords that which belongs solely to the eternal Judgment of the Most High God, as in matters of faith, which also, Luther and others wrote in the beginning. But after they became more exalted they seem to have forgotten it all. [p. 303]

Say, beloved, where do the Holy Scriptures teach that we shall rule the consciences and faith of others, in the kingdom and church of Christ, by force of the sword, violence, and tyranny of the magistracy - something which is left entirely to the judgment of God? In what instance has Christ and the apostles ever done, recommended or commanded this?

Christ says, "Beware of false prophets;" and Paul commands that we shall shun an heretic after one or two admonitions; John teaches that we shall not greet nor receive the transgressor into our houses, who does not bring the doctrine of Christ, Matt. 7:15; Tit. 3:10; 2 John 1:9; they say not: Down with the heretics, accuse them before the magistrates, imprison, exile and cast them into the fire or water, as the Romans have done for many years, and as many of you would do, you who pretend to preach the word of God. [p. 118]

Above all, the proud, carnal, worldly, idolatrous and tyrannical princes, who do not acknowledge God, I speak of the evil princes, who do not want to be right in all their mandates, projects and undertakings, however much they may be at variance with God and his blessed word; as if the Almighty Father, the Creator of all things, who holds heaven and earth in his hands, who rules all things by the word of his power, had given them the privilege not only to command, rule and administer according to their will in temporal government, but also in the celestial kingdom of Jesus Christ. O no, beloved, no. This is not the intention of God; but it is an abomination in his blessed sight when mortal man substitutes himself in his stead. [pp. 237-238]

This first parable is explained by Christ himself, saying, "He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; The field is the world" (understand it rightly, Christ says, It is the world, and not the church, as Gellius claims); "the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; the enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels," Matt. 13:37-39.

Reader, understand it rightly. Christ, the Son of man, sows his seed (God's word), through his Spirit, in the world; all who hear, believe and obey it, are called the children of the kingdom. In the same manner the opponent sows his tares (false doctrine), in the world, and all that hear and follow him are called the children of evil. Now, both wheat and tares grow together in the same field, namely, in the world. The husbandman does not want the tares to be plucked out before their time, that is, he will not have them destroyed by rooting them up, but wants them left until the harvest, lest the wheat be destroyed with the tares, Matt. 13:29, 30.

O, reader, if the preachers rightly understood this parable and feared God, they would not cry so loudly against us, who, alas, are every where called tares, heretics and conspirators, "Down with the heretics;" even if we were heretics, from which God save us. Oh! what noble wheat they destroy! But what does it avail? Satan must rebel and murder; for it is his nature and work, as the Scriptures teach, Gen. 3:4; John 8. [p. 88]

All excerpts are from The complete works of Menno Simon (Elkhart, Ind., 1871).

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