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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
T. J. Van Braght. Translated from the Dutch by Edward Bean Underhill
From, A Martyrology of the Churches of Christ (Commonly called Baptists), 1858
Matthias Servaes was an Anabaptist elder and teacher. (I Pet. 5:1) In the year 1565, it so happened that one evening he and some friends were gathered together at a certain place in Cologne, in order to receive instruction in the gospel. But a Judas who knew of their assembly went and fetched a double guard. They came armed, and storming the house in which the meeting was held, animated by anger and malice, scattered with blows and imprisoned the flock.
The prisoners like sheep were led away to the Bayen tower. Their names were all taken and they were lodged in different places. They were closely questioned who their teacher was. Matthias declared himself to be the man. Attempts were then made to induce them to forsake Christ and his holy Word. Falsehood and deceit, entreaties and threatenings - every species of stratagem was resorted to. But Matthias withstood them all.
Torture was then employed, but pain did not affright him. He firmly held that which God had manifested to him. The next morning he was conducted to the Hacht, where also many efforts were made to ensnare his soul. From the Hacht they brought him bound to the High Court. There they read to him the imperial proclamation, and delivered him into the hands of the executioner, to be put to death in accordance with the requisition of the edict.
Matthias was ready to die, and was led as an innocent lamb to the slaughter. Lifting up his eyes to heaven, and folding his hands, he said, "O! My Father, I praise thee that I am accounted worthy to suffer for thy name." Many people were seen running together to witness the execution, who said to their companions, "It is a pity that this good man must suffer for such a deed." On the way, a young woman came to speak to him, but was thrust from him and taken into custody. A servant also endeavoured to greet him, whom they likewise seized, but the count called to them to let him go.
As Matthias came near the place of execution, he looked around and said, "There are many people here this day, the thought gives me anguish that these must all be lost." As he was about to be put to death, he cried with a loud voice and said, " O God; thou knowest well what I have aspired after, what I have sought in the whole course of my life, from the first, night and day."
Turning to the count he said, "You know well how you have treated me, but I have forgiven you all from my heart." Thus was the life of this pious man brought to an end, being beheaded by the sword. What took place before and after his confession, and what befell him in prison, and how he exhorted, comforted, and strengthened his brethren may be seen from the following letters:
The first letter written by Matthias Servaes from prison to H. R. his brother in the Lord, and to his companions in the faith:
The saving grace of God, and the peace of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, be multiplied abundantly to all them that believe, by the grace and anointing of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
All is right with me, my very dear brethren and sisters in the Lord, both in the flesh and in the spirit, in body and in soul, within and without. It is all right in my judgment whether it be joy or sorrow, life or death. For I live not to myself, and I die not to myself. If I live, I live unto the Lord; if I die, I die unto the Lord. (II Cor. 5:15) For I am in his hand, and no man shall pluck me from it. Of this I am sure. For me to die is gain. I have a desire to depart and to be with Christ my Lord.
Whatever happens, it serves for my consolation. My bonds and my confinement manifestly advance the gospel. For the glory of God I hope it is that I suffer, and to afford strength and consolation to all the godly who may be called to endure the like chastisement. I rejoice therefore in my tribulations, and that I am counted worthy by the Lord to suffer reproach for his name's sake (of which, indeed, I know myself to be unworthy), to fill up as it were that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ, and which devolves on his members.
As, therefore, the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so much the more do the consolations abound by Christ, who hath richly consoled me in all my sorrows. This shall continue by his grace to be my happiness, and theirs also who regard him as their highest good, and for that reason love him above all, and are willing for his sake to forsake and hate all things, in order that they may be loved by him alone whose name is Love. That you may attain to this as little children is my ardent desire for you all by Christ Jesus, and that you may remain therein steadfast and immoveable to the end. Amen.
Further, my dear L. B. H., and all who are set to watch for the souls of men, fulfil your office with diligence. Be not idle, slothful, or negligent. Be faithful shepherds, guiding and feeding the flock of Christ with integrity and uprightness, with humbleness of mind and meekness. Be as a father that chastiseth the wrongdoing of his children, who, although he may not be able to correct them as he desires, can never forget the fatherly relation in which he stands towards them, nor that they are his children. If oftentimes he is constrained to threaten them for their disobedience and perversity, he ceases not to correct and instruct them, in the hope of restoring them to the paths of obedience.
Should sadness and grief be his portion, he yields not, nor withholds the needful exhortations, discipline, and punishment. Thus do ye; give attention to reading, exhortation, and discipline, with all meekness in the fear of God. Be not too severe, lest they be discouraged; nor too gentle, lest they become slothful and careless. Like the true Samaritan, pour in oil and wine.
Be attentive to what I say. Neglect not the gift which is in you. Be faithful to him who will reward your fidelity, and hath called you to be his servants, and stewards of his mysteries. Seek not to be mere stewards, but faithful ones. Be diligent labourers in the vineyard of the Lord, and faithful builders in his house. Diligently employ the talent that you have received from the Lord. Remember the punishment of the slothful servant who would not place his Lord's money in the bank, but buried it in a napkin in the earth. (Luke 19:20)
Call to mind, my dear brother, the warning which Solomon gives, when passing the field of the slothful, and the vineyard of the foolish man. He says, “I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of under-standing, and lo! it was all grown over with thorns, and was full of nettles, and the stone wall thereof was broken down. As I saw, I took it to heart,” says he, “I looked upon it and received instruction.” (Prov. 24:30)
In like manner, my dear brethren, be careful, and diligently toil in the vineyard of the Lord, with the plough or with the hoe, breaking the hard stones; that is, by the Word of God, in order that the good seed which is sown therein may not be stifled or destroyed. Take also the sharp two-edged sword, and prune therewith the vineyard of the Lord. Sever the unfruitful and withered branches, that the rest may bring forth more fruit to him who hath planted the vineyard. Look well to the walls of the vineyard. If in any places they begin to give way, repair them. If in other places they have fallen down, let them quickly be rebuilt, lest foxes enter the vineyard of the Lord, and dig therein and spoil it.
What shall I more say? Feed the flock of Christ with fidelity. Watch carefully for the souls of men. Be vigilant to exercise discipline. In all your decisions, have no respect of persons. Remember judgment is the Lord's and not yours. (Deut. 1.17) Weigh all things in the scale of God's Word. Let all your judgments be guided by his Word, so that whatever you chastise, judge, or pardon, may be pardoned, judged, or chastised, according to the Word of the Lord. Be careful that in the exercise of church discipline you aim not too high, lest a fall succeed. Excommunication is salutary for the prevention of offences where it is not abused. Care must be taken, that in the endeavour to avoid a small offence, a greater does not spring up.
Be particularly anxious that the first commandment with promise be observed, viz.: Children, obey your parents in the Lord. (Eph. 6:1) This command is explicit; be careful to keep it. To those who have fallen away, show a friendly spirit and exhort them affectionately to repent and be converted. I refer only to those to whom the admonition will be useful, for blasphemers and scoffers must go to their own place.
I write this to you, dear brethren, not as something new, but that you may bear it in mind. For I wish you to be careful not to hold one scripture with such tenacity as thereby to break another. For there are some who suddenly, without discretion, so employ the ban as to create sympathy with the fallen. Therefore am I solicitous on this point. [Much dissension existed at this time among the Baptists of Holland with respect to the use of excommunication. By some the sentence was thought to sever the culprit from all contact with his dearest friends and connections, and if any of them were members of the church they were expected to avoid every species of alliance with the individual under ban. This subject divided the Baptists into two parties, and traces of it remain to this day]
We ought to have the same mind that was in Christ Jesus. We ought to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. Then let us remember his longsuffering; how he hath patiently borne with us, and let us so treat our fellow servants, that we may give no offence to any one, either in the world, or the church of God.
Anxiously seek the souls of men, wherever you have hope there extend your labours. Say not, it is labour lost. Put your hand to the plough in the fear of God, and pray the Lord that while you plant and water he will give the blessing. Entreat of him the increase and success. But should success not follow, be careful that you are not guilty of neglecting the souls of men, of which I often accuse myself.
Oh brethren, I beware of contention. Whenever you meet, let peace dwell in your midst that the grace of God may abide with you. Oh, my dear brother, the state of affairs in the upper country grieves me to the heart. Do not understand me to have any doubts—oh no, my brother! I remain steadfast as I stated in my letter to them. I am only solicitous on behalf of those who are innocent and would seek after godliness, whom discord may destroy. I know not how we can answer it to God. Oh! that all who are blameworthy in this matter, may weep before God and seek forgiveness for their sin.
In like manner the Netherlands weigh upon my mind. I should rejoice if help could be given, and that good rules were laid down, for there is still much wanting amongst them; but I hold them dear to my heart. I wish that the pride, which many of them exhibit, were laid aside, and that they would consider what kind of people they ought to be, for what purpose they meet together, and that the elders should not remain at home when they are convoked. I do not say that they must be helped first, but that the whole matter must be taken into consideration.
My dear brethren, be lowly, nothing in your own eyes; please not yourselves. Do not think that I have written this of myself; everything is of God who useth men as his instruments; therefore give him all the glory. Let no one set himself above his brother; let each esteem other better than himself. Submit yourselves to one another, and with humbleness of mind serve each other. I request all the brethren and sisters to watch for those who forsake the church.
If an opportunity arises, tell “L.” [Probably Leenaert Bouwens, who took the side of severity in his opinion on the ban] to reflect in the time of mercy, for how shall he answer in the Day of Judgment? If he think aright his own conscience will accuse and condemn him. O, “L.! repent, you have not chosen the better part. Alas! my brethren, I have suffered much on account of these people. Avoid divisions, seek peace as much as in you lies, and pursue it.
Dear brethren, I am often visited by blasphemer. Cassander, a little man and weak of body, who perverted Joachin the confectioner, has been with me, endeavouring by many falsehoods to deceive me, and to lead me captive. He read to me a printed Latin book, in which it was declared that infant baptism was a plain command, and beyond contradiction the uniform practice of the whole world. He declared, but could not sustain it by Holy Scripture, that they had received it of the apostles. When I disproved it from the New Testament, he observed, If I denied infant baptism and would not believe it, how did I know that the New Testament itself was true? For said he, we receive it on the authority of the very parties who teach infant baptism to be right.
There are besides many other writings called apostolical writings (some indeed acknowledged to be spurious, and therefore rejected), which testify that all the fathers declare the New Testament to contain the doctrines of the apostles, and that this doctrine of baptism is one of them. If then the one is overthrown, how can the other be maintained? You must receive it (the New Testament) on their testimony; otherwise you can have no knowledge of it.
This is also the case with baptism. He further said, that if we were right, then it must follow that for 1500 years there had been no church. Almost all, and they are not a few, who have spoken with me on this subject, have treated it in this manner. They also brought to me a man who they said had just come from Egypt. He represented to me that they had received infant baptism from the chamberlain, baptized by Philip in Egypt, and that they knew of no other baptism. But if an old man desires baptism, who has not been baptized, he must first confess his faith. This, said they, has always been the only custom there, and if anyone had opposed it he would be answered, "We have received this custom from the apostles."
To all this, I constantly opposed the teaching of the New Testament. I said, whatsoever agreed therewith that I would willingly admit, and by God's help believe; not otherwise. Again I was obliged to hear that the New Testament had come down to us from the fathers. By their means alone could we distinguish right from wrong.
This was often said to me. I replied, It was no advantage to the unconverted king of Assyria that God employed him for the conversion of his people. It availed nothing to wicked Pharaoh that God made known by him his mighty power. In like manner, the prophecy of Caiaphas concerning Christ, although it was true, did not profit him, while he himself was disobedient to the commands of Christ. To God be all the glory, that he hath himself given to us the Word!
Many prayers and entreaties were now addressed to me in order to move me, but as these did not produce any effect they began sharply to rebuke and threaten me. As, however, they saw it was all lost labour; they proceeded to torture me with our brother Harman. This was on the 17th of July. But blessed be the God of mercy who never forsakes his people, but at the right moment comforts them in all their sufferings and tribulations, he guarded our lips that they could not obtain from us one word that they desired to have.
After questioning us, they speedily let Harman go. The main object in putting us to the rack was to force us to say how many teachers there were, their names and places of abode, in what part of the town I had given instruction, how many I had baptized, at what place I had been ordained to the office of teacher, what teachers were present on that occasion, and that I should confess the magistrates to be Christians, and infant baptism right. I pressed my lips tightly together, and yielded myself into the hands of God, suffering patiently.
I remembered the word of the Lord, where he says, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. (John 15:13, 14) I also remembered what John says, “We ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” (I John 3:16) It would appear as if I had yet much to suffer, but it is all in the Lord's hand. I can only pray the will of the Lord be done.
My brethren, in this extremity neither knowledge nor words avail anything; only a living faith, girded by the might of love, patience, hope, and obedience. A faith like that which enabled Shadrach, Meshech and Abed-nego, to say, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee (O Antichrist!) that we will not serve thy gods, nor the golden image which thou hast set up. (Dan. 3:16-18)
And if with lofty words of human wisdom, or with soft enchantments they seek to beguile us, then in the power of faith we must repel them. Depart; we desire none of your counsels, and to this we steadfastly adhere. If on such occasions we say more than necessity compels, we cannot escape without injury. Let all who are made prisoners be well instructed in this matter.
But few days passed without some conversation, yet it was very little that I confessed, although we many times spent three or four hours together. Oh, exhort all the prisoners, if you can, that they lay everything aside; think of us night and day with prayer to God; our minds turn towards you. Greet all the believers with the kiss of peace.
How dear to my heart are all my believing brethren; I seldom forget them; yea, I often think of them before the Lord with earnest affection and prayer. I cannot write much, for my time is more precious than gold; do not write to us, you can guess the reason; the God of heaven will be our keeper and yours. Amen.
I, Matthias Servaes, your brother for the truth's sake, a prisoner of the Lord, remain of the same faith that ye have already heard of me. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen
The second letter of Matthias Servaes of Kottenem, written to his brother from prison.
The saving grace of God be with us all. Amen. I desire that a Dutch testament may speedily be procured for my wife [who was not at that time imprisoned], for she cannot read the German print. Further, my dear brother, I wish you to know that I am now alone, but the Lord is with me. It is very evident to me that I shall have but few opportunities of contact with our brethren who are imprisoned with me, and it is probable that my situation may yet become worse.
But I know not how sufficiently to give thanks to God, and though I should like to be with my brethren, yet I prefer this; for since it pleases God thus to afflict me; it is all for the best and greatly conducive to my salvation. However great the torture inflicted upon me, I count the pain as nothing because God hath appointed it.
The Thursday after our apprehension, early in the morning, they brought me from the Franconian tower; our brethren were to be tortured the same morning; everything was ready. The candles and the torches stood on the rack. As they brought me near they began to interrogate me, but before they had finished, and I had confessed my faith and my office (I also putting many questions to them), more than half the day was spent.
After much conversation, when they could no longer answer me (for which I give God alone the glory). He who had been most forward in proposing questions, said that baptism was our chief error. I replied: "If that is our greatest error, and for which you imprison and torture us, why do you not first inquire into the fearful errors and ungodly lives of the priests? Why do you not act as in the sight of God, without respect of persons, and severely punish the frightful errors you will find amongst them?" But he did not think this worthy of an answer.
Seeing this I said:
"We are, nevertheless, men, and you are no more. The fear of God forbids my regarding you as more than men. Consider the matter well, and deal not with us so cruelly and tyrannically. The Lord will visit and punish the world's wickedness. He is judge over all. Bear in mind that you must stand by our side when the Lord shall come to judge both us and you, for we must all, as the Scripture saith, appear before the judgment seat of Christ. (II Cor. 5:10) There shall every one receive the things done in his body according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad; then must your decisions be reviewed, and before the Lord be justified. Regard not these words, my dear “L. K.” as threats, or as the expressions of a haughty spirit. Regard them as an admonition, as a warning I utter them. The everlasting welfare of your soul is as precious to me as my own. Lay this to heart, and consider well how you treat us."
There it ended.
Our brethren were this time spared. I was racked in their stead. They led me alone to the rack in order to torture me because I would not say where I had last met Henry, how many teachers we had, or in what place they lived. As they pressed this question upon me many times I became anxious to know the reason of their importunity. The count answered, "If we should tell you that, you would immediately reply that you wished to betray no one."
I said to him: "You answer yourself." Further conversation took place between us, but as they continually pressed me to answer in a way that would end in treachery, I refused to make any more confessions, unless they would first tell me the reason of their inquiries. I also told them that they ought to examine their own hearts, and in the sight of God truly say whether they could dare counsel me on this wise. I asked them several times, but they would give me no answer and left me. They said to one another that the affair was right enough; only an uproar had arisen out of it.
I commend you all to God. I have no more time to write to you. Remember me always before the Lord. Amen.
The third letter of Matthias Serves, written to I. N.
May peace and joy be wrought in you by the Holy Spirit, and increase in you and in all the faithful that are in Christ Jesus. Amen. Yea, in all those who are men of goodwill, having chosen God as their highest good, and from love desire, as obedient children their father, to serve and follow Him with strong confidence, firm and un-wavering to the end, through faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.
We have received, dear brethren, the breakfast you sent us, for which we give thanks to God. Again, I send you a small thing from my poverty. Take this also with thanks, and divide it among our companions in tribulation, since it is profitable for edification, and may minister grace unto the hearers. If ye compose hymns, or write, or speak, do it all to the glory of God. Offer thanksgivings to your heavenly Father by Christ that he has wrought in you that faith which, forsaking and hating all things, worketh by love, and which excites you from love (as children indebted to a father) to remain faithful unto death.
As far as possible avoid all mention of the count, for he says that he has been insulted in the hymn of Thomas the printer. Although he has so taken it that is certainly not the meaning. He also says that, although it was his intention to do what is right, on that account he has had to bear reproach from many; therefore, dear brother, whatsoever you do, whether by word or deed, do all to the glory of the Lord, giving thanks by him to God the Father.
Further, let me inform you, dear brother, that Hendrik Altruysscher who lives and usually sells red wine at Egelstein, has been here. He began to converse with me desiring to know whence I received my office or ministry, but as I knew the sort of man he was, I wished him to tell me what he was called. He said that he did not know, but I further inquired whether he was not called Hendrik. He answered several times that he did not know. I then bade him go away and repent, for I would not converse with him. The count was displeased and angry, and urged me to enter into conversation with Altruysscher, but I said, “No, I will not.”
I have briefly related and sent this to you, dear brother, for I have no time to write much as I am closely watched. I desire that you may remain steadfast in the fear of God with all meekness and lowliness, walking in goodness and love.
Please not yourself, but rather seek the welfare and edification of your neighbour, and teach the rest to do the same. I commend you to the grace of God. Remember us in your prayers, which we ought also to do for you and for all men, even as we are taught by the Word of God, but the God of peace and of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, perfect us in every good work, that we may do his eternal unchangeable will, and grant that all our works may be pleasing in his sight through Jesus Christ.
The same God, for whose name's sake we are here prepared to suffer, if it be his will, will strengthen and establish us, and well prepare us for it. To him be glory and strength for ever and ever. Amen.
We are still well in body and soul. We are joyful in hope of being numbered with those whose souls are beneath the altar awaiting the rewards of righteousness. Salute, for me, the brotherhood in Christ. The grace of God be with us all. Amen.