II MENNO SIMONS' CALL TO THE MINISTRY AND ORDINATION
Menno Simons renounced the national church on January 30, 1536. He seems to have left Witmarsum about the same time. At the place where he was so well known and where his conversion caused not a little stir, he felt doubtless the least secure. In the autumn of the same year two men, Herman and Gerrit Janz, whose dwelling place is not known, were arrested in Friesland on the charge that they had "given lodging to the former priest, Menno Simons, until recently of Witmarsum, who has now been received into the covenant of the Anabaptists." The regent of the province of Friesland expressed himself on Oct. 24, 1536, to the effect that the sentence of death should be passed on these two men, although obviously they had not been baptized. They were set at liberty, however, probably for the reason that Menno was not yet baptized when they permitted him to enter their house. (1)
Toward the end of the same year we find Menno in the province of Groningen, just east of Friesland. Here he was ordained a minister of the Gospel by Obbe Philips. Menno himself gives a detailed account of his call to the ministry of the Word of God. His narration was written as a reply to various accusations by Gellius Faber who asserted that he had never been properly called and was seeking selfish ends in the ministry; hence Menno enlarges particularly on points showing the fallacy of these charges. He says :
"About a year after this, [namely after his renunciation of the state church] while I in quietness exercised myself in the Word of God by reading and writing, it came to pass that seven or eight persons came to me, who were of one heart and one soul with me, in their faith and life, as far as man can judge unblamable, separated from the world according to the testimony of the Scriptures and willing to bear the cross; (2) who had a sincere aversion not only to the Munsterites but to all other worldly sects, false teachings and abominations. In the name of the God-fearing ones who were of one mind and spirit both with them and with myself, they entreated me kindly and earnestly to take to heart the very sad condition of the poor, oppressed souls and use to advantage the talent which I had unmeritedly received from the Lord; for the hunger was great and the faithful stewards very few.
"When I heard this, my heart was greatly troubled. Apprehension and fear was on every side. For on the one hand I saw my limited talents, my great lack of knowledge, the weakness of my nature, the timidity of my flesh, the very great wickedness, wantonness, perversity and tyranny of the world, the mighty great sects [the persecuting state churches], the subtlety of many men and the indescribably heavy cross which, if I began to preach, would be the more felt; and on the other hand I recognized the pitifully great hunger, want and need of the God-fearing, pious souls, for I saw plainly that they erred as innocent sheep which have no shepherd."
The class which Menno Simons rightly describes as sheep without shepherds were those who, through Lutheran, Zwinglian, Melchiorite, and Anabaptist influences had been religiously awakened and brought to recognize to a greater or less degree the errors of Romanism. The Lutheran and Zwinglian preachers, as a rule, had left the land after the beginning of bloody persecution, and those who remained followed the policy of avoiding everything that would bring them into difficulty with the authorities. This was also the position of the Melchiorites. Many pious people were waiting for spiritual leadership. Many who had become estranged from the national church were, like the "Oldcloisterites," to some extent influenced by the Munsterites, but never thought of accepting Munsterite doctrine as a whole. Menno saw the field ripe unto harvest. He felt that those who would be shepherds of the erring sheep must be men who were sure of their message, men who were not only ready to give their life for the truth, but to live as fugitives and outcasts under the greatest hardships, privations and dangers.
"After much entreaty," says Menno Simons further, "I finally surrendered myself to the Lord and His church on this condition that they and myself should for a time continue in earnest prayer, if it were His good and holy will that I should or could thus serve Him to His glory, that He in fatherly love grant unto me a heart and mind which would testify to me, with Paul : 'Woe is me, if I preach not the Gospel;' or if it were not His will, that He might lead in a way that it should be left undone; for Christ says: 'If two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them' (Matt. 18:19, 20).
"When the persons before mentioned did not desist from their entreaties, and my own conscience made me uneasy in view of the great hunger and need already spoken of, I consecrated myself, soul and body to the Lord, and committed myself to His gracious leading, and I began in due time [i. e., after having been ordained to the ministry of the Word] according to His holy Word to teach and to baptize, to labor with my limited talents in the harvest field of the Lord, to assist in building up His holy city and temple and to repair the dilapidated walls." (3)
The main sources of information concerning the principles of the Obbenites are, besides Obbe Philips' Confessions, the early writings of Menno Simons. There is good evidence to show that almost from the time of his ordination Menno Simons' influence among the Obbenites was second to that of no other leader. Through his able presentation and defense of the principles for which they stood, Menno became the spokesman of the denomination. He testifies that at the time when he united with them they were unblamable in doctrine and life. Obviously this testimony meant that they were willing to accept any truth which might come to them from the Word. The Obbenites were fully decided to be guided by God's word alone and to accept and follow its teachings. "Historical development" they recognized only in so far as it is founded on Scripture. According to their own testimony they welcomed new truth from the Scriptures. It is clear from his writings that Menno Simons devoted himself to diligent study, fully recognizing the probability of obtaining new truth from the Word. His writings, even at this early period show a surprisingly thorough acquaintance with the Scriptures.
Soon after his call to the ministry Menno wrote the Meditation on the Twenty-fifth Psalm in which he gives us a glimpse of his inner life, motives and endeavors. That this book was written not long after his renunciation of the national church is evident from the statement found in it that he served the enemy of the Lord "until this present time." Nevertheless it is clear from other statements that his ordination preceded the writing of this book. (5) Hence the date of the book is probably toward the end of 1536 or early in the year following.
In this book Menno declares his desire and anxiousness to accept all truth which may come to him and his brethren from the Scriptures.
"From our whole heart we seek for and strive after the purity of the primitive church." "It is not necessary to use the sword against me, for if I have not the truth of Jesus Christ, I shall gladly be taught it. - I say again, with the sword of the divine Word I desire to prevail or be prevailed over. Herewith I offer anywheresoever to confer, to teach, to discuss, as may be desired."' (6) "If I had not the Word of Jesus Christ, I desired from my whole heart to be taught, for I seek it with great fear and trembling. In this I cannot be deceived. I have believed and accepted Thy holy word through Thy holy Spirit, as the sure word of Thy truth, and it will not deceive me." (7)
In the first edition of his Foundation of the Christian Doctrine Menno says :
"We desire only so much mercy that we may be permitted to confer and discuss publicly with any theologians, as may be your pleasure. For if they have the truth of God, and not we, we shall gladly be taught it." "Let us publicly discuss and confer seeking nothing but only that the divine word and true Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ may be elucidated and that we may live according to it. O how much innocent blood could be spared if you would consent to this and in how short a time would the truth be made known to many." "Therefore lay our doctrine against your doctrine, our life against your life, our way against your way, our cross against your cross. If ye then find that your doctrine, life, way and cross conform to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, instruct us with the Word of the Lord, which is the only authority for the faith; we should so willingly be taught. But now the bloody, evil schoolmaster alone who certainly can not teach faith, namely your terrible sword, must prevail in these matters." (8)
"I desire," he says further in the same book, "that men whoever they may be, may through my life and service be brought to a saving knowledge of the truth. For this cause have I forsaken all carnal ease and glory and have submitted myself to the cross of my Lord Jesus Christ, seeking nothing that is of this world. - For I desire from my heart and seek with all diligence to live according to the Gospel and will of Him who died and arose for me." (9)
Menno concludes his Meditation on the Twenty-fifth Psalm, after describing the desolation wrought by Antichrist, with the following prayer based on the last verse of the twenty-fifth Psalm:
"Redeem Israel. O God, out of his trouble. Look with the eye of Thy mercy upon our great oppression and distress; release us from the iron furnace of Egypt; bring us out of the land of the Chaldees. Let the holy city be builded again upon its old foundation, with the walls and gates. Rebuild the fallen temple whose stones are scattered and trampled upon in all the streets. Gather together Thy wandering sheep. Receive Thy returning bride who has behaved so perversely with strange lovers. O God of Israel, create in us a pure heart which longeth for Thy blessed Word and will. Send forth faithful laborers into Thy harvest to reap and gather the grain in due season. Send us faithful builders who lay for us a good foundation, that in the last days Thy house may be established and shine in beauty over all the hills; that many may come thither and say: Come ye and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to [t]he house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us his ways and we will walk in his paths (Isa. 2:3); that we in peace and freedom of conscience may walk before Thee all the days of our lives under God-fearing governments and blameless teachers, with the Christian baptism, true supper, godly life and proper discipline, that Thou mayest in us as Thy beloved children be truly honored and praised eternally through Thy blessed Son Jesus Christ, our Lord, to whom with Thee, Father, and Thy holy Spirit be honor and everlasting dominion. Amen." (176b; I: 228b).
It is interesting to notice that Menno Simons in his first writings denounces the opinion held by the Melchiorites, Caspar Schwenckfeld and others: That before a church should be organized and the ordinances of Christ observed a great change in political and ecclesiastical conditions must take place. He combats the opinion of a stillstand and points out that the time of grace is now and a more convenient season to serve the Lord must not be waited for. He says in the Foundation:
"O dear brethren, do not comfort yourselves with the idle consolation and the groundless hope that the word of Jesus Christ shall yet be taught and lived without cross-bearing. Had all the children of God waited for such a time, the Gospel of the kingdom would not have been proclaimed from the beginning until now, O no, brethren, no; the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the word of God is to be sealed with blood and proved by persecution. The Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8). Not only has He suffered in His members but by the cross He obtained the glory which He had laid down. If now the Head has in the flesh born such pain, persecution and affliction, how then shall the members expect to have ease and quietness in the flesh? If they have called the Master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household? (Matt. 10:25). For all that will live godly in Christ Jesus, says Paul, shall suffer persecution. Ye shall be hated, says Christ, by all men for my name's sake.
"My dear brethren, take such evil thoughts out of your carnal hearts and do not give ear to the thoughts of another time that ye may not be deceived by this false hope. I have indeed known many who entertained this hope, but they have not lived to see the realization of it. (1) - If ye have any knowledge of Christ, any love for His holy word, do not console yourselves longer with such a false hope. If it should be that the merciful God will give some quietness and peace and liberty, we shall receive it with thanksgiving from His gracious hand; if not, His name shall nevertheless be praised in eternity. We know that the time is at hand, as has been set forth above; we have now the acceptable time of all grace, the day of salvation." (11)
One of the cardinal points on which Menno differed from both Catholicism and Lutheranism is also emphasized in one of his first books. He says :
"There is no medium against sin besides the precious blood of Jesus Christ; neither works nor merits, neither baptism or supper (although I know well that the true Christians use these signs in obedience to the divine word) otherwise that which we obtain through the merits of Christ is ascribed and given to elements and creatures. The Christian ordinances are signs of obedience through which our faith is exercised." - "We find that the new birth is brought about through God's word (Rom. 10:14, I Cor. 4:15; Jas. 1:18; I Pet 1:23)" (12)
Menno Simons, in the account of his conversion and call to the ministry of the Word of God does not dwell on his ordination nor make mention of the one who ordained him. The reason for this silence is obvious. At the time when Menno wrote his reply to Gellius Faber in which this account is contained Obbe Philips had forsaken the Church, and this fact was set forth in Gellius Faber's book. Hence Menno preferred not to mention the name of Obbe Philips when speaking of his call to the ministry. It was a bitter experience for him that Obbe turned back and "became a Demas" (II Tim. 4:10) as he speaks of him." (13)
(1) D. B., 1864, p. 135. On the supposition that Menno's wife was a daughter of Herman Janz see Vos, Menno Simons, p. 5.
(2) The Melchiorites evaded the cross and remained in the national church, but those with whom Menno Simons identified himself were of a different mind. Obbe Philips was presumably among those who came to Menno.
(3) The part of Menno's answer to Gellius Faber containing the here quoted account of his own conversion and renunciation of the Roman Church has often been reprinted in Dutch, German, and English. In the English Works it is found part 1, pp. 3-7; it is omitted in the reply to Faber, part 2, page 99.
(4) The title of the edition of this book which was printed in 1539 is Voele goede und Chrystelycke leringhen op den 25. Psalm doer Menno Simons in een Maniere van bidden gescreuen. 1539.
(5) "Tot nu toe" i. e. "until now," says Menno, he has not served the Lord (fol. A3a). In his Complete Works the Meditation on the Twenty-fifth Psalm is not found in its original form; it was revised by himself at a later date and the words in question were eliminated. The oldest edition extant alone, namely that of 1539, has these words. This is supposed to be the first edition but the book was written before 1539. Menno had been "ordained a minister of the holy word" at the time when he wrote this book, as he states fol. C5b and in other instances.
(6) Meditation, etc.. fol. A2.
(7) The same, fol. C7a.
(8) Dat Fundament des Christelycken leers, 1539, fol. C3b, L7b, P5b.
(9) The same. N4b.
(10) In the revision of this book Menno changed this sentence. He says here, "I have known some," etc.
(11) The same, fol. A6b.
(12) Meditation on the Twenty-fifth Psalm, 1539, fol. C4b and E8a.
(13) 312a; II: 96a. That Obbe Philips again united with the Roman Catholic Church, as has been frequently asserted, is an evident error.