artyrs Mirror, compiled in A.D. 1659, by the Dutchman, Thieleman J. van Braght, is a massive book of 1,158 pages, published by the Mennonite Herald Press of Scottdale, Pennsylvania. What Foxe’s Book of Martyrs is to the Evangelical church, Martyr’s Mirror is to the Anabaptist tradition. There is much to learn from both classic books.
We in the rich, affluent, world have almost completely lost any sense of what it means to be a witnessing church, a church of martyrs. Our actions beg the question, “Do we have the necessary faith to be a martyr?”
Can we comprehend why a defenseless person would be deliberately killed when his or her only guilt was an uncompromising faith? Perhaps we have forgotten what it was like for our spiritual ancestors.
James Brenneman wrote, “We need to realize that suffering for righteousness’ sake is part of what it means to mirror Christ to the world” (“From Flaccid Whiners to Authentic Witnesses,” Gospel Herald, October 22, 1996, pp. 1-3, 8). Many Christians today may doubt the truth of that statement. Menno Simons, the Anabaptist who founded the Mennonite Church of the Brethren, suggested six measures for discerning whether a church is truly following Christ: (1) The true Church holds to the Word of God as its only standard for belief and practice; (2) A faithful Church practices baptism and communion in the way the early Christians did; (3) Christ’s followers show love for their neighbors; (4) A faithful Church expects persecution; (5) The true Church boldly confesses Christ “in the face of cruelty, tyranny, fire, and the sword”; (6) A faithful Church brings forth the fruits of Christ. (From Harry Loewen and Steven Nolt, Through Fire and Water: An Overview of Mennonite History, Herald Press, 1996, pp. 77-78.)
The first part of Martyrs Mirror records accounts of believers’ baptisms and sufferings from the first through fifteenth centuries. The second part has accounts of the martyrs in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Here is the account of one of the more than 4,000 martyrs catalogued in Martyrs Mirror, the story of Dirk Willems.
“In the year 1569, a pious, faithful brother and follower of Jesus Christ, named Dirk Willems, was apprehended at Asperen, in Holland, and had to endure severe tyranny from the papists. But as he had founded his faith not upon the drifting sand of human commandments, but upon the firm foundation stone, Christ Jesus, he, notwithstanding all evil winds of human doctrine, and heavy showers of tyrannical and severe persecution, remained immovable and steadfast unto the end . . . .”
“Concerning his apprehension, it is stated by trustworthy persons, that when he fled he was hotly pursued by a thief-catcher, and as there had been some frost, said Dirk Willems ran before over the ice, getting across with considerable peril. The thief-catcher following him broke through, when Dirk Willems, perceiving that the former was in danger of his life, quickly returned and aided him in getting out, and thus saved his life. The thief-catcher wanted to let him go, but the burgomaster, very sternly called to him to consider his oath, and thus he was again seized by the thief-catcher, and at said place, after ever imprisonment and great trials proceeding from the deceitful papists, put to death at a lingering fire by these bloodthirsty, ravening wolves, enduring it with great steadfastness, and confirming the genuine faith of the truth with his death and blood, as an instructive example to all pious Christians of this time, and to the everlasting disgrace of the tyrannous papists” (p. 741).
Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” Do people who are not persecuted miss a blessing? How can we keep the memory of our spiritual ancestors alive without making idols of the martyrs? These and more profound questions may come to mind as you read Martyrs Mirror. — adapted from an article by J. Daniel Hess.
Martyrs Mirror by Thieleman J. van Braght, is available from Giving & Sharing, PO Box 100, Neck City, MO 64849 for a suggested donation of $44. You may also borrow it for free from Sharing Library, PO Box 581, Granville, OH 43023. New Foxe’s Book of Martyrs is available for a suggested donation of $12. The original Foxe’s Book of Martyrs is available on our website at, www.giveshare.org/library/foxes/index.html.
Few believers have not, at one time or another, faced trials and persecutions. We might not all be burned at the stake, but we individually have our problems to overcome. Giving & Sharing would like to compile first hand accounts of trials and persecutions of God’s people. If you have a true account you would like to share with others, please submit your article to: Richard C. Nickels, 3316 Alberta Drive, Gillette, WY 82718, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please make your account as brief and clear as possible. Let us know if you wish to withhold your name. After telling the event, let us know what you learned from this trial and persecution, and how others can benefit. Subject to our discretion, and possible editing for clarity and brevity, we will publish your story at www.giveshare.org/persecution. We pray that these accounts will be of great inspiration to God’s people.
What is the spiritual purpose of studying the lives of Christian martyrs? The brother of Thieleman van Braght wrote a poem (Martyr’s Mirror, p. 1139), which ended with this verse:
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.
— by Richard C. Nickels W