To my Brother T. J. Van Braght *
A zeal and heavenly desire pervades th' inspired strings
Of David's harp, whose tuneful chords a mournful feeling brings;
When fear of death was strong within, those strains from Zion would roll,
In psalms to demonstrate his grief and gloominess of soul.
Such zeal, O brother, did I see from thee, like flashes burst,
As thou the Christian martyrs' deaths and steadfast faith rehearsed
E'en at the very time when sore afflicted, thou didst lie,
And thou didst seem to realize that thou must shortly die.
Wilt thou not save that care and zeal which thou dost now exhaust,
And cease awhile that sacrifice, which all thy strength has cost?
And with the sick and weak awhile from active service hold,
In which, as I have said, thou hast engaged with zeal untold.
Yet, well I know that thou, like Christ, must ever onward go,
And teach the world the word of God, while traveling here below.
To show the world what we should bear, and what the martyrs bore
Thou wast, by studying God's blest word, impelled to work the more.
P. VAN BRAGHT.
Ye blessed and chosen martyrs of Jesus Christ, receive from me also, somewhat that may tend to your spiritual refreshment, in addition to the tem- poral comfort and maintenance with which the lady, the church, has supplied you from her own breasts, and the brethren from their individual labor. For, it is not profitable to nourish and cherish the body, while the spirit is permitted to suffer hunger; and when assistance is rendered to that which is weak, we should not neglect that which
is still weaker. However, I am not the person to address you. Nevertheless, the most consummate soldiers are addressed, not only by masters and their superiors, but also by plain persons and those of inferior rank, receiving occasionally abundant and circumstantial exhortations from them. Hence, it has frequently happened, that the representations and admonitions of such persons, have afforded them signal advantage.
Therefore, ye blessed, above all things, grieve not the Holy Spirit who has accompanied you into prison; had He not entered with you, you would not now be in bonds. Strive, therefore, to retain the Holy Spirit with you there, that He may lead you from prison and conduct you to the Lord. The prison is indeed the house of the devil, in which he keeps his household; but you have gone into prison for the purpose of trampling upon him in his own house; for when you contended with him without, you totally vanquished him. Wherefore, he shall not say, "They are in my power, I will tempt them with disgraceful hunger, with apostasy, or with dissension among themselves." He will flee from your sight, and hide himself in his abyss, like a frightened, halting, torpid, accursed and vanquished serpent.
Moreover, he shall not be so successful in his kingdom, as to excite dissension among you, and incite you against one another; but he shall find you equipped and armed with concord, since your peace is to him a war. Even though some of you have not enjoyed this peace in your churches, yet they have usually obtained it through prayer, from their fellow martyrs in prison. You ought, therefore, to have and preserve this peace among you, that you may impart the same to others. Other hindrances, such as parents, etc., have accompanied you to the prison door. Thenceforth, you are separated from the world, and much more from the perishable things of the world. It should not be a source of fear and distress to you, that you are separated from the world; for when we consider that the world is rather a prison, we can perceive that you have rather escaped from than been committed to prison. For the world is filled with greater darkness, obscuring the minds of men. The world binds sinners with more ponderous chains, in order to keep their souls in bondage and security. The world exposes adulterous mankind to more desolating impurities. In fine, the world contains more prisoners; namely, the whole human family; and, moreover, is awaiting a sentence, not this sentence of aldermen or judges, but the judgment of God. So, ye blessed, ye are now in a place of refuge or safety from the prison of the world; true, there is darkness in that refuge, but you are a light in that darkness. There are indeed prisoners there, but you are God's freedmen; there is a loathsome smell there, but you are a sweet savor. These judges have to look for a judge, but you it is who shall judge these judges. II Cor. 6:2; Rev. 3:21. Those may indeed be distressed who sigh after the wealth of this world, but a true Christian had already renounced the whole world when he was out of prison: and now that he is in prison he also renounces the. prison. To you who have renounced the world, it matters not in what part of the world you are. And if you have but some of the joy of this life, it is profitable dealing to lose or relinquish a trifling bargain, in order, thereby, to gain a greater one. I forbear mentioning the magnitude of the reward and glorification to which the martyrs are called of God. Rev. 3:21.
Still, we would hereby compare the life of the world and the prison life; the spirit gains more in prison than the body loses. Nay, the body loses not the necessaries of life, in consequence of the providence of the church and love of the brethren. but the Spirit, moreover, makes such acquisitions as are every way advantageous to faith; for there (in prison) you see no strange gods; there you are not offended with their images; there you are not molested by the great throng of men, which takes place at the festivals of the heathen; you are not enveloped with foul stench; you are not terrified with the shrieks of the horrid exhibitions, and with the fury and insolence of tumult, when the heathen tragedians make such vain reptesentations. You are not disgusted with the sight of public brothels; you are free from offense, from temptation, from evil thoughts, nay, from persecution. The prison affords to Christians all the advantages derived by the prophets from their solitary wilds. The Lord was wont to withdraw from the people, that He might enjoy the more freedom in prayer, and in retirement from the world. Nay, in the wilderness, He manifested His glory to His disciples. We will, therefore, discard the name prison, and substitute that of separation, for, though the body is therein secluded and confined, yet all things are open to the spirit. Let the spirit then issue forth and wander abroad, not in shady orchards or spacious pleasure houses, but let it travel in the way that leads to God. Phil. 3:20; Col. 3:2; Heb. 13:14. So often as you expatiate in the spirit, so often will you be beyond the confines of the prison. The feet are free from the shackles, when the hands are uplifted to heaven; the mind carries the whole man with it, taking him wherever it goes; hence; our hearts should be wherever we should have our treasures. Matt. 6:21.
But be it so, ye blessed, that the prison is irksome to the Christians: yet we must remember, that we are called to the warfare of the living God. Eph. 6; and the more especially as we have taken the sacramental (baptismal) vow. Nay, no soldier marches to war with joy and delight. He marches forth to the battle, not from his bed, but from his tent, equipped and girded about, when the whole work is a series of trouble, sorrow and turmoil; nay, in peace they are free from labor. They teach with trouble to endure the fatigues of war; they march under arms, they exercise in the field, sink ditches and saw wood for the various kinds of ar.
maments and fortifications. All is one continued labor and toil, lest the body or the mind should be influenced by fear; from the evening twilight till the dawn of day, from the heat of summer to the cold of winter, from the taking off of the coat till the putting on of the armor, from silence till clamor, from tranquillity till alarm.
Therefore, ye blessed, inure yourselves to all the hardships of the soldier, for the exercise and strengthening of the mind and body. You are now marching in a good contest, in which the living God is the dispenser of the prizes, and the Holy Ghost the keeper; the coronation is an everlasting jewel, the citizenship angelic existence in heaven, a glory that shall endure forever: therefore, it is Jesus Christ who dispenses the prizes to you, who has given you the unction of the Holy Spirit, and advanced you to this grade of honor; may he withdraw you from lighter work before the day of battle, that you may be assailed with greater violence, and your strength be confirmed; for the combatants have to undergo severe discipline and exercise, in order that, by exertion, their physical powers may be improved. For, for this end they are kept from venery, rich victuals, and strong drink; they are subjected to constraint, tortured and exercised; and the greater preparatory exercise they take, the greater is their hopes of victory. Now they do it, says the apostle (I Cor. 9:25 ), to obtain a corruptible crown; but we shall obtain an eternal one. We should, therefore, make the prison a place of trial and exercise, that we may be inured to every misfortune and inconvenience, and so appear with the greater confidence, before the judgment seat of Christ.
We are not unacquainted with the declaration of the Lord Jesus, "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." We ought, therefore, not to fear or be dismayed, since the Lord declares that the flesh is weak; but He has told us beforehand, that the spirit is willing and ready, in order that He might know which should be subject to the other, namely, that the flesh should serve the spirit, the weaker submit to the stronger-that the former might also acquire strength of the latter. The spirit should converse about the general eternal salvation, and not about the inconvenience of the prison, but meditate upon the contest, and what greater hardships may still be in reserve. Perhaps the flesh will be terrified at the huge sharp sword, the lofty gallows, the ravenous beast, or the exquisite pain of the flames, and the numerous instruments of orment; then will the spirit and flesh stand in opposition. What though this be great cruelty, numbers have suffered it with great joy; nay, persons have voluntarily desired and longed for it, in order to acquire honor and a name; and not only men but women. Hence, ye blessed, you may know how to deport yourselves according to the measure of your race.
It would consume too much time to mention all who have been executed with the sword, under the influence of a strong desire for such a death. Among females, there is Lucretia, who, being ravished, pierced her bosom with a dagger in the presence of her friends, that she might leave behind her the fame of her chastity. ATutius burst off his right hand, in order, thereby, to acquire a name. How, also, that many other extraordinary inconveniences and tortures have been suffered for the acquisition of worldly honor and fame, we omit for brevity's sake; and add that if temporal honor is worth so much torture and pain, endured through strength of mind, so that fire, sword, gallows, wild beasts, and torture were contemned for the reward of human fame, I may well say, that this, our affliction, is extremely light in comparison of the heavenly glory and the divine reward. If glass is so valuable, how much more precious are jewels? Who, then, would not much rather suffer so much for a real, substantial good, when so many endure so much for an unsubstantial one. I now dismiss the consideration for temporal fame; still the strife of indignation and that of martyrdom are analogous, etc.
This outward exercise, ye blessed, the Lord has not permitted to enter the world to no purpose; but for our sakes, to warn us, thereby, that we shall be put to shame and confusion at the last day, if we are afraid of suffering for the sake of truth unto salvation, that which others have endured for the sake of vanity, unto perdition, etc. And in conclusion, let us consider the end or design of the creation of man, at which we must arrive, that such reflection may stimulate us to prepare ourselves resolutely to endure those calamities which equally befall the willing and the unwilling, (namely, the punishment of death, etc.), There is no person who would not still suffer for man's sake; why then should we hesitate or fear to suffer in the cause of God, who will recompense us with the purest love, and with joy and everlasting glory? Meditate upon this, ye blessed.
© 1949, Herald Press
The Index of Anabaptist Martyrs (1525-1660) and the List of Popes and Emperors have been prepared and compiled by Ira D. Landis, member of the Mennonite Historical Committee. He has also compiled an entirely new General Index, making a total of three indexes which we believe will be much appreciated and utilized by the readers. An Index of Sources Quoted is not available.
The Index of Anabaptist Martyrs lists the names of all Anabaptists known to have been persecuted or martyred from the time of the first Anabaptist martyrs in 1525 to the year 1660. The names of the martyrs other than Anabaptists are listed in the General Index. In the List of Popes and Roman Emperors, the page numbers appear with those names found in the book. In parentheses are the dates during which the pope or emperor served. We trust the reader will find these indexes of considerable value in the use of the book.