VI THE DIFFICULTIES UNDER WHICH MENNO SIMONS LABORED
HIS OWN TESTIMONY
"Yes, dear reader, the true Christian faith, as the Scripture requires, is so living, active and powerful with all those who through the grace of the Lord have rightly received it, that they, for the word and testimony of the Lord, do not hesitate to forsake father and mother, wife and children, money and possessions, to suffer all scorn and disgrace, hardships and dangers, and finally to have their poor weak bodies which are so fearful of suffering, burned at the stake, as may be frequently seen and observed in the instances of so very many people and faithful witnesses of Jesus, especially in these our Netherlands.
"Alas! how many did I formerly know, and know the greater part of them now, both men and women, servants and maids (would to God that they be increased, to His praise and to the salvation of all the world, to many hundred thousand) who from the inmost of their souls seek Christ and His word and lead a pious, unblamable life (yet ever in weakness) before God and all men; they are sincere and sound in doctrine, unblamable, I say, in their life, full of the fear and love of God, helpful to everyone, merciful, compassionate, humble, sober, chaste, not refractory or seditious, but quiet and peaceable, obedient to the government in all things that are not contrary to God; and yet, they have for a number of years seldom slept on their own beds and do not now. For they are hated of the world in such a measure that they are persecuted without mercy, betrayed, apprehended, exiled and robbed of their property and life, like highway men, thieves and murderers. And this for no other reason than only that they out of true fear of God, do not dare to have a part in the abominable carnal life nor the cursed shameful idolatry of this blind world." (115b; I:158).
"The said doctrine of the holy divine Word we have had in the German countries for many years, and have it daily more and more in such power and clearness that it is palpable and evident that it is the finger and the work of God. For the haughty become humble, the avaricious liberal, the drunkards sober, the unchaste pure, etc. For the word of God is accepted of them with such assurance that they do not hesitate to forsake father and mother, husband, wife and children, their possessions and life on account of it, and willingly suffer death. For many are burned at the stake, many drowned, many executed with the sword, many imprisoned, exiled and their property confiscated. Nevertheless all avails nothing with the obdurate persecutors. If it is only said, when a poor innocent one of the sheepfold of the Lord has been slaughtered, 'He is an Anabaptist,' it is believed sufficient. They do not inquire what proof and Scriptural grounds he had, of what nature his conduct and life was, whether he injured any one or not. Neither do they reflect or consider that it must be a special work and power .... to cause a man to suffer unspeakable infamy and shame, great persecution and misery and often death, as you may see.
"If a thief is led to the gallows, a murderer is broken upon the wheel, or another malefactor punished by an uncommonly painful manner of death, everyone inquires what he has done. The sentence is not pronounced as long as the judges do not fully understand the facts and know the truth concerning his evil deeds. But whenever an innocent contrite Christian whom the gracious Lord has rescued from the evil, wicked ways of sin and brought upon the way of peace, is accused by the priests and preachers and brought before their court, they do not consider him worthy to really investigate what reasons and Scripture move him that he will no longer listen to the priests and preachers .... they do not desire to know why he has mended his life and received the baptism of Christ, or what may be his motive that he is willing to suffer and die for his faith. They only ask whether he is baptized. If the answer is in the affirmative the sentence is fixed and he must die." (108b; I:149b)
"However lamentably we may here be persecuted, oppressed, smitten, robbed, burned at the stake, drowned in the water by the hellish Pharaoh and his cruel, unmerciful servants, yet soon shall come the day of our refreshing and all the tears shall be wiped from our eyes and we shall be arrayed in the white silken robes of righteousness, follow the Lamb, and with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob sit down in the kingdom of God and possess the precious, pleasant land of eternal, imperishable joy. Praise God and lift up your heads, ye who suffer for Jesus' sake; the time is near when ye shall hear, 'Come ye blessed' and ye shall rejoice with Him for evermore." (87b; I:122b)
"We poor, homeless people, deprived of all human assistance and consolation, who like innocent shepherdless sheep have become a prey to the roaring lions of the forest and the devouring beasts of the field, a spectacle and reproach to the whole world, who have to suffer daily the tyrannical sword of the lords and princes, hear and endure the inhuman revilings and abuses of the learned and the terrible lying and scoffing of the common people, we humbly beg and entreat the Imperial Majesty, kings, lords, princes, authorities, and officers, everyone in his calling, dignity and honor, all our beloved gracious rulers, we beg you through the deep and bloody wounds of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you but once lay aside all displeasure and evil opinion concerning us, and with sincere pity take to heart the inhuman severe oppression, homelessness, need, cross, and martyrdom of your distressed and innocent servants. For the great Lord before whom we stand, who is the searcher of all hearts and before whose eyes all things are open and revealed, knows that we seek nothing else upon this earth than that we with a good conscience may order our lives in accordance with His holy commandments, ordinances, word and will.
"We ask you to show somewhat of natural probity and human charity towards your subjects, and consider in your hearts that we homeless, forsaken people in our body are neither wood nor stone, but we are with you descended from one father, Adam, and born of one mother, Eve. - Examine, I say, our doctrine and teaching and you will, through God's grace find that they are the pure, unadulterated doctrines of Christ, the holy word, the word of eternal peace.
"O ye beloved sirs, put your sword into the sheath .... It is indeed a terrible abomination and a mad wickedness thus miserably to murder, destroy and kill those who with so zealous hearts fear the Lord and seek eternal life and who would injure no one in any way whatever. The death of His saints, says David, is precious in the sight of the Lord. It is Jesus of Nazareth whom you persecute, and not us (Acts 9:5). Therefore awake, forbear, fear God and God's word; for you and we shall all be called to appear before one Judge.
"We do not ask for favors as the evil-doers of this world do; for in this our doctrine, faith and practice we have not sinned, although we are called upon to suffer so much. But we resist only the doctrine, ordinances and life of Antichrist, and this with the word of the Lord, as contained in the Scriptures. We resist neither the emperor, nor king, nor any authority in the things to which they are called of God, but we are ready to all obedience, even to death, in all that is not against God and God's word, and we know without any doubt what the Scriptures enjoin upon us in regard to obedience to magistrates. But we ask for mercy sufficient that under your gracious protection we may in liberty of our conscience live, teach, labor, and serve the Lord." (10; I:22).
"We are poor pilgrims and strangers, miserable according to the flesh, who not on account of any crime but for the testimony of Jesus and for conscience' sake must flee with our wives and children before the tyrannical, bloody sword, to save our lives, and thus in foreign countries, in anxiety and tribulation, hearing many scornful and abusive words, earn our bread." (510; II:315)
"Yea, it has come to this (may God make it better) that where four or five, ten or twenty, have met in the name of the Lord, to speak of the word of the Lord and to do His work, in whose midst Christ is, who fear God with all their heart and lead a pious, unblamable life before all the world, that if they are caught at a meeting or if accusation is brought against them, they must be delivered up to be burned at the stake, or drowned in the water. But those who meet in the name of Belial .... in public houses of ill fame, play-houses, fencing-schools and the accursed drunken taverns, who live in open disgrace and act wickedly against God's word, such live in all freedom and peace. -
"I do not esteem my life to be better than the beloved men of God did their lives. I can be deprived of nothing except this perishable mortal flesh which at some time must die and return to dust (even if I should live to the age of Methuselah). A hair shall not fall from my head without the will of my heavenly Father. If I lose my life for the sake of Christ and His testimony, and on account of my sincere love to my neighbor (in whose salvation I am interested) I know of a certainty that I shall save it to life eternal. Therefore I can not keep the truth to myself, but I must testify to it and set it forth without hypocrisy in the true fear of God, to my beloved lords." (53a; I:78b).
"We seek not your destruction, but your amendment; not your condemnation but your eternal salvation; we seek not your lives, but your spirit and soul; on account of which I have these seven years been made to suffer and do yet suffer great slander and scorn, anxiety, hardship, persecution and very great danger of imprisonment. - Up to this hour I could in all these countries round about (where, alas, they have for a long time had vain boasting of the divine word, far more than fear of God) not obtain a little hut nor a cabin of clay or straw where my poor wife with our little children might safely sojourn for a half a year or a year. O cruel, unmerciful Christians!" (521; II:327b).
"We seek upon earth nothing but that we humbly and faithfully in our great weakness may obediently follow the express and clear word, Spirit, example, command, prohibition, usage and ordinance of the Lord according to which everything must be ordered in the kingdom and church of Christ, as is testified and shown on every hand by our tribulation, oppression, homelessness, anxiety, loss of property and life. Therefore it is before God and man un-Christian, nay manifestly tyrannical and unjust, to impose on us the penalty and punishment which was laid on the Circumcelliones, alone for the sake of baptism which we have so strongly defended with the word of God and the teaching and usage of the apostles against all human philosophy and inventions.
"In the first place we would therefore humbly beseech your Excellencies to consider for Christ's sake in pity and paternal solicitude how lamentably we, your suffering subjects, who however were created with you by one God, and purchased with the same treasure, and who will at last appear with you before the same Judge, are without cause belied, derided and slandered by the whole world and especially by the theologians, and how in some places they are without compassion and mercy put to death and left for the birds of the air to devour as the worst people upon the earth; how they, as our predecessor, Christ, are with the criminals put to the stake and to the wheel, in consequence of which some of us, with our wives and little children, have been robbed of our possessions, inheritance and property acquired by hard work, and must roam in foreign countries unclothed and destitute, and this for no other reason, the Lord knows, than that we do not approve of the inordinate life of this world and do not make common cause with the preachers who by their doctrine, sacraments and life contradict the word of the Lord; for no other reason than that we rightly use the Lord's baptism and supper, shun according to the Scriptures all idolatry, self-righteousness, and abuses; and that we in our great weakness are minded to fear the Lord and follow righteousness.
"Inasmuch as it is found in fact and in truth that our faithful brethren and sisters in Christ Jesus, the beloved companions in the tribulation and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ (Rev. 1:9), so sincerely fear and love the Lord, their God, that rather than knowingly and wilfully speak a false word [denying that they were baptized] or to act hypocritically contrary to God's word [keeping themselves against their convictions outwardly in the state church in order to shun persecution]; they would give their good name, reputation, as well as their money, goods, bodies, and everything of which human nature may be desirous, as a prey to the blood-thirsty; therefore we would leave it to the judgment of your Excellencies and Honors, whether they are such pernicious, evil people as, alas, they are called by many, and generally adjudged.
"They seek nothing on this earth but that they, as much as lieth in them, serve the whole world unto righteousness and that they through the grace, Spirit, power and word of the Lord may save many from eternal destruction and win them unto Christ; that they may thus, with the gracious help of God, improve the short time of their earthly existence in the service of their neighbor, to the praise of God in Christ Jesus, and be eternally saved. If this is to be called heresy and devilish deceit, as the preachers cry, then the Son of God, Christ Jesus together with all the prophets, apostles and high witnesses of God would clearly be heretics; and then all the Scriptures, which teach nothing but amendment of life and everywhere point us to Christ, must be nothing than seducement and deceit; this is incontrovertible. For they conform themselves in all that they do, as much as lieth in them, to the word, spirit, life, commands, prohibitions, ordinances and usages of the Lord, as their open actions indicate and testify before all the world.
"O beloved lords, we beseech you, not to despise our reasonable and Christian petition, but to consider it in love. - It is to us no joking matter or quibble, but we mean from our whole heart what we say, as our sore persecutions indicate and testify." (327; II:109)
Against the accusations, "that we are rebellious and would take cities and countries by force of arms, if we had the power," Menno says: "I, a poor, homeless man (dear reader, think not that I say this from motives of vain honor) have for about seventeen years in my weakness feared the Lord and served my neighbor in much misery, anxiety, tribulation and grief. I have without complaint born the reproach and cross of the Lord and I trust by His grace I will continue to bear it to the end, and to testify by tongue and writing, life and death with a good conscience to His holy, beloved word, will and ordinance, as much as is in me - and should I then yet at heart be a disturbing, rebellious, vengeful and bloody murderer? May the Most High save His poor servant from that!
"Again in Brabant, Flanders, Friesland and Gelders the God-fearing, pious people are daily innocently led to the slaughter and inhumanly martyrized with great, grievous tyranny. Their hearts are full of spirit and strength; their mouths flow as the rivulets; their fruits scent like the sacred spices; their doctrine is well founded and their life unblamable. Neither emperor or king, fire nor sword, life nor death may frighten them or separate them from the word of the Lord. (Marginal note: A true, consecrated Christian is an unconquerable knight; yea he is stronger than emperor or king). And should their hearts yet be entangled with bitterness, rebellion, vengeance, robbery, hatred and blood-shed? Then indeed there would be much vain suffering." (503; II:307 seq.)
"No lie is so disgraceful and gross, that they dare not bring against those who fear God. - And these unchristian, terrible lies are not enough for the world, but they who know Christ and would willingly live after His word must endure harder things; they must bear severer persecution, as we witness with our own eyes. For how many pious children of God have they for the testimony of God and their conscience' sake within a few years deprived of their homes and possessions, have confiscated their needed property, and committed it to the bottomless money chests of the Emperor; how many have they betrayed, driven out of cities and countries and put them to the stocks and torture, turning the poor orphans naked into the streets. Some they have hanged, some they have tortured with inhuman tyranny and afterwards choked them with cords on the stake. Some they roasted and burned alive. - Some they have killed with the sword and given them to the fowls of the air to devour. Some they have cast to the fishes; some had their houses destroyed; some have been cast into slimy bogs. Some had their feet cut off, one of whom I have seen and conversed with. Others wander about here and there, in want, homelessness and affliction in mountains and deserts, in holes and caves of the earth, as Paul says. They must flee with their wives and little children from one country to another, from one city to another. They are hated, abused, slandered and belied by all men. By the theologians and magistrates they are denounced. They are deprived of their food, are driven forth in the cold winter and pointed at with the finger of scorn; yea whoever can assist in the persecution of the poor oppressed Christians, thinks he has done God service, as Christ says, John 16:2." (147a; I:196a)
Under the marginal title "Judging the Christians' cause according to the flesh, it seems to be a great seduction," Menno says: "Again our persecutors advance an excuse, saying it is right that we should be persecuted, for we deplorably mislead many persons and bring them to destruction To this we reply: If this cause is considered and judged according to the flesh, it seems indeed that many men are miserably deceived by us. For all those who desire to follow obediently and sincerely our doctrine, life and confession, must be ready to forsake all that they have received of God; their good name, reputation, land, house, gold, silver, father, mother, sister, brother, man, wife, son, daughter, yea life itself. - Gallows, wheel, offensive pools, the stake and the sword, as also hunger, thirst, want, affliction, distress, anxiety, nakedness, sorrow, buffeting, bonds and imprisonment must be their portion and lot here upon earth. No man may without the risk of his property and life befriend them or administer unto them. The father may not receive and assist his son, nor the son his father. In short, they are looked upon by the world as unworthy of heaven as well as of the earth. Moreover they shun all pomp and vanity, all intemperance in food and drink, and the carnal life in which the whole world delights. - Those who are taught of God, who have risen with Christ from the old life of sin to a new life, who have become partakers of the holy Ghost, who are spiritually minded, and consider and judge all things according to the Spirit, those do not consider it a deception and seduction, but love it above all gold and silver - nay above all that may be named under heaven." (146; I:195 seq.)
"He who has purchased me with the blood of His love and has called me unworthily to His service, knows me and knows that I seek neither earthly possessions nor a life of ease, but only the praise of my Lord, my salvation and the salvation of many souls. For this I, my poor, feeble wife and little children have for nearly eighteen years endured extreme anxiety, oppression, affliction, homelessness and persecution and must at all times be in danger of life and great peril. Yea when the ministers of the national churches repose on easy beds and downy pillows, we generally have to hide in secluded corners. When they at weddings and baptismal dinners [held when the rite of baptism was observed] are unbecomingly entertained with pipe and tambour and lute, we must stand in apprehension, when the dogs bark, that the catch-polls are at hand.
"Whilst they are saluted as doctors, preachers and masters by everyone, we must hear that we are Anabaptists, hedge preachers, seducers and heretics and must be saluted in the devil's name. In short, whilst they are richly rewarded for their service with large incomes and easy times, our recompense and portion must be fire, the sword, and death.
"Behold my faithful reader, in such anxiety, poverty, oppression and danger of death have I, a homeless man, to this hour constantly performed the service of my Lord, and I hope through His grace to continue therein to His glory, as long as I remain in this earthly tabernacle. What I and my faithful co-workers have sought or could have sought in these arduous and dangerous labors, is from the works and the fruits apparent to all the well-disposed.
"Beloved reader, observe well what I write. Gellius reproves us for preaching at night. It was in the year 1543, if my memory serves me right, that a decree was published throughout West Friesland, that criminals and manslayers were promised pardon, imperial grace, and freedom, and besides one hundred Carolus-Guilders, if they would betray me and deliver me into the hands of the executioners. [Here follows the account of the capture and martyrdom of Tjard Reynders; compare page 53].
"Also in 1546, at a place where they boasted of the Word [where the state church reformation had been accepted; obviously in one of the German provinces], a house of four rooms was confiscated, for the reason that the owner had rented them for a short time to my poor, sick wife and our children, although the neighbors had not known of it." (243; II:11)
"In view of the fact that it is manifest how the whole world is so greatly embittered against us, (although undeservedly) that we may not be 'heard or seen, and many an innocent, God-fearing person who is not a teacher, is led as a sheep to the slaughter, and killed and murdered without mercy, by the sword, water, or fire, and we homeless teachers may not anywhere under the broad canopy of heaven obtain as much as a pig-sty (so to speak) to live in it in freedom, but that we through public mandates are already sentenced before we are apprehended, and already condemned before we had a hearing, a condition of things which, to the extent of our knowledge, has nowhere prevailed in the times of the apostles, therefore I pray all my readers for God's sake that they will in the fear of God thoughtfully consider what gross injustice Gellius and his followers have done us by the use of such wrong and bitter words. - We are also prepared at all times to render an account of our faith to any one and to defend the truth, whenever it can be done in good Christian faith, without deceit and shedding of blood, as has been already said." (258; I:7 seq.; 260; II:35).
"The blood-thirsty murderous spirit urges some of the theologians and writers, who dare to boast of the crucified Christ and of His service, to write that the authorities should not only imprison those who are guilty according to the justice of the world, such as thieves, man-slayers, etc., and condemn them to death, but also the sincere, faithful children of God who seek Jesus Christ and His holy truth from all their heart and walk unblamably before the whole world. Those also are delivered up without mercy into the hands of the blood stained henchman, to be tortured, drowned, burned, or put to the sword, out of mere hated of the truth, because they shun their deceptive doctrine and false worship according to the word of the Lord. That I write the truth, of this are not only the Papist and Lutheran writers, but also the published writings of your most prominent leaders and brethren, namely John Calvin, Theodor Beza and John a'Lasco .... my witness before you and the whole world." (604a; II:408b).
The shedding of the innocent blood is due to the teaching and instigation of the theologians. In short, dear reader, if the merciful Lord had not, in His great love, tempered the hearts of some of the rulers and magistrates, but had let them proceed according to the instigations and blood-preaching of their theologians, no pious person would survive. But yet a few are found who, notwithstanding the words and writings of all theologians, tolerate the exiles and for a time show them mercy, for which we will forever give praise to God, the Most High, and also return our thanks in all love to such kind and discreet rulers." (323b; II:104b)
"Therefore, our beloved and gracious rulers according to the flesh, we pray you for God's sake to consider, if there is a desire for the right within you, in what great anxiety and suspense we poor people find ourselves. For if we are disloyal to Jesus Christ and His holy word, we must fear God's wrath, but if we stand loyally by His holy word, we fall prey to your cruel sword. O beloved rulers and judges in the provinces, observe how from the beginning all the righteous, the prophets and Christ Jesus Himself with His holy apostles have been treated; and today you deal in the same manner with all who in purity of heart seek the truth and life eternal." (432b; II:230).
"O Lord, methinks that I am assured that neither life nor death, neither angels nor principalities, nor powers, neither things present nor things to come, neither height nor depth nor any other creature shall separate us from Thy love which is in Christ Jesus. Notwithstanding I know not myself; all my trust is in Thee. Though I have drunk a little of the cup of Thy suffering, yet I have not tasted it to the bottom. For when dungeon and bonds are suffered, when life and death, water, fire and sword are threatened, then will the gold be distinguished from the wood, the silver from straw, the pearls from stubble. Then do not forsake me, gracious Lord; for I know that trees of deepest root are torn up from the earth by the violence of the storm and the lofty, firm mountains are rent asunder by the force of the earthquake. Have not Job and Jeremiah, the true examples of endurance, stumbled in Thy way through weakness of the flesh? Therefore I pray Thee, blessed Lord, according to Thy faithfulness and grace, suffer me not to be tempted above that I am able to bear, lest my soul be made ashamed in eternity. I pray not for my flesh; I well know that it is subject to suffering and death. For this alone I pray, forsake me not in the time of trial but make a way of escape in my hour of temptation; deliver me of all my need, for I put my trust in Thee." (Meditation to the Twenty-fifth Psalm, 1539, fol. D11).
"John saw the Babylonian woman 'drunken with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.'" - Yea, my reader, this is the real work and way of Antichrist's church that she hates, persecutes and kills with the sword those whom she can not enchant with the golden cup of her abominations.
O Lord, O dear Lord, grant to Thy poor little flock that it may not be entirely swallowed up by the wrathful dragon, but that we by Thy grace may through patience overcome through the sword of Thy mouth and may leave an ever abiding seed which shall keep Thy commandments, preserve Thy testimony and forever praise Thy great and glorious name. Amen, dear Lord, Amen." (300a; II:82b).