Thieleman J. Van Braght, Martyrs Mirror

Martyrs Mirror: To The Readers

Good friends and fellow citizens:

Of old, among the heathen, the greatest and highest honors were accorded to the brave and triumphant warriors, who, risking their lives in the land of the enemy, conquered, and carried off the victory. [The victors at the Olympic games (so-called from Mount Olympus in Greece, where they were held) were crowned with Wreaths of oak and laurel, which was considered a great honor.] Thus Homer, the foremost of the writers of heroic poetry in Greece, has, in twenty-four books, extolled and embellished with many eulogies the warlike deeds of Ulysses. Quintus Curthts described, in ten books, the deeds of Alexander, the son of Philip of Macedonia: how triumphantly he conquered and subjugated Europe, Asia, India, and the countries bordering on the eastern Ocean, till he ultimately lost his life in Babylonia. Plutarch composed a voluminous work devoted to the praise of illustrious and valiant men. Titus Lhius has written of the Roman heroes, how praiseworthily they acquitted themselves in behalf of the country of Romulus. Virgilhis Maro and others eulogized the emperor Augustus. And this usage has obtained from ancient times, and obtains yet, in every land, yea, throughout the whole world.

We say nothing of the honor and praise, which, many years after their death, was bestowed in public theatres, upon those who had been sacrificed to idols, for the narration of it would consume too much time. But God, in His Word, goes higher and farther yet, in this respect. He has caused the conflict, the sufferings, and the triumphs of His spiritual courageous heroes, children and favorites to be written, in language the most touching, glorious and triumphant, as an everlasting memorial for their descendants, and not only this, but as a full assurance of their happiness; so that they should always be remembered, and never forgotten. Yea, the whole volume of holy Scriptures seems to be nothing else than a book of martyrs, replete with numerous, according to the flesh, sorrowful, but according to the spirit, happy, examples of the holy and steadfast martyrs, whose sufferings, conflicts and triumphs have been recorded in as holy and worthy manner as it is possible to imagine.

However, they are variously spoken of, according to the importance of their merits. Some of them suffered and fought much, but not unto blood, nor unto death; their victory and their honor are, therefore, not represented as of the highest degree. Others, however, suffered and fought not only unto blood and death, for the Lord’s name, but even to the greatest pain and most bitter death. We shall first speak of the former class, and then of the latter; yet the last shall surpass the first. Abraham, the father of the faithful, and Isaac and Jacob, to whom God had promised the possession of the land of Canaan, lived, nevertheless, as strangers in the land of promise, and, sometimes, had to endure hunger, thirst and oppression. Compare Gen. 12:10: 26:20; 31:22, 23 with Heb. 11:9.

Moses, the friend of God, had to flee from Pharoah into the land of Midian, where he sat down by a well. Ex, 2:15. Afterwards he came very near being stoned by the disobedient in Israel. Ex. 17:4.

David, a man after God’s own heart, was several times in peril of being transfixed to the wall by a javelin, I Sam. 18:11; 19:10; yea, his life was in such danger, that he complained to Jonathan: “There is but a step between me and death.” I Sam. 20:3. For this reason he often called upon God for help, that he might not meet with an untimely death. Among other things he says: “Consider and hear me, O Lord my God: lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death.” Ps. 13:2.

In the days of Ahab and Jezebel a hundred prophets of the Lord had to flee on account of persecution, and were hid in a cave, and fed with bread and water, by one Obadiah. I Kings 18:13.

Elijah, for the same reason, was compelled to turn eastward and hide himself by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. I Kings 17:3. His life was afterwards made so bitter to him, that he fled into the wilderness by Beersheba, sat down under a juniper tree, and prayed, “O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.” I Kings 19:4.

When Elisha, the servant of Elijah, proclaimed the word of the Lord in the city of Samaria, the king of Samaria swore, that the head of Elisha should not stand on him that day. II Kings 6:31.

The prophet Micaiah, who had foretold in the name of the Lord the truth to the king of Israel, had to eat the bread of sorrow, and drink the water of sadness, in the prison in which he was confined, until the king was slain in a battle. I Kings 22:27-37.

Jeremiah was cast into a mire-pit, in which he sunk down so deeply that he was in danger of death, until he was saved through Ebed-melech, the Ethiopian. Jer. 38:6-13.

Amos was called a conspirator, and forbidden not only the city in which he prophesied, but also the land of the ten tribes of Israel. Amos 7:10-13.

All these, and many more, endured much suffering and many conflicts yet not unto blood or death. But those of whom we shall speak now, suffered the bitterness of death, and are therefore, in this respect, of higher rank than they who have preceded, just as the loss of life is a severer test than to suffer in the body or to lose temporal possessions; which is the only difference between the two classes named.

This bloody army of the spiritual champions, who fought unto blood and death for the Lord, commenced with the beginning of the world, as though God’s saints were born to suffer and fight; and as though God had designed, that His church should be tried from the beginning and all through, even as gold in the furnace that her purity might become the more manifest.

In the beginning we see Abel who, having in faith offered unto God a lamb as a sacrifice, was slain in the field by Cain, his brother. Gen. 4:8; I John 3:12.

In the days of Ahab and Jezebel many prophets of God were slain by the sword of the rebellions and disobedient in Israel, so that Elijah thought he alone was left. I Kings 19:14

When the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada, so that he said to the disobedient people: “Why transgress ye the commandments, of the Lord, that ye cannot prosper? because ye have forsaken the Lord, he hath also forsaken you,” they took stones and killed him at the commandment of the king in the court of the house of the Lord. II Chron. 24:21.

When Urijah, the son of Shemaiah, of Kirjath-jearim prophesied in the name of the Lord against the city of Jerusalem, his life was sought, so that he fled into Egypt. But Jehoiakim the king sent men who fetched him back, and he slew him with the sword, and buried his dead body among the common people. Jer. 26:20-23.

The god-fearing young men, named Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, who refused to worship the image of King Nebuchadnezzar, were cast, bound, in their coats, their hosen, and their hats, and their other garments just as they were, into a fiery furnace, in which they would have been immediately consumed, if God had not preserved them. Dan. 3:21-23.

The prophet Daniel, because he would not worship king Darius, but only the true God of Israel, was cast into a den of lions, to be torn by them; but God protected him as He did those mentioned before. Dan. 6:16.

Onias, the high priest, who, in a very praiseworthy and peaceful manner, led and kept the people at Jersualem, so that foreign kings were moved to honor the city and the temple of God with gifts, was falsely accused by Simon the Benjamite, removed from his office by Jason, his own brother, and stabbed to death without regard of justice and equity by perjured Andronicus; for the which cause not only the Jews, but also many Gentiles took great indignation. Compare. II Mace. 3:1, 2 with 4:1, 34.

Two women, who had their children circumcised according to the law of God, were led round about the city, with their babies tied to their breasts, and then cast down headlong from the wall. II Maccabees 6:10.

Some who hid themselves in caves, to keep the Sabbath or day of rest of the Lord, and who would not defend themselves against the enemies, when it was discovered to Philip the tyrant, were burned. II Mace. 6:11.

Eleazar, an old man of ninety years, because he would not sin against the law of God by eating forbidden meat, nor set an evil example to young persons, nor dissimulate, had to carry his hoary hairs with blood to the grave, and die a cruel death through many stripes. II Mace. 6:27-31.

Seven brethren, for the same cause, were scourged with rods and thongs, had their tongues cut out, their hands and feet cut off, and were roasted in pans, and killed in this terrible manner to the last one, together with their mother, who had witnessed it all, and likewise refused to depart from the law of God. II Mace. 7.

This last mentioned class, from Abel to the Maccabees, are the true army of God and the heroes of the old covenant who, for the honor of God and the law of their fathers, did not spare their lives.

These the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews has in view when he speaks of the great cloud of witnesses, who, looking through faith for the fulfillment of the promises of God and the coming of the Son of God, in the flesh endured all sufferings, conflicts, and, at last, death, bravely and with an undismayed heart. But the others, says he meaning the steadfast saints of God of whom we have spoken, had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover, of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; of whom the world was not worthy. Heb. 11:36-38.

Hence the whole volume of holy Scriptures, especially the Old Testament, seems to be almost exclusively, a book of martyrs, as we have stated in the beginning; appearing from the examples which we have adduced, and of which we could point out many more, if it were necessary.

As regards the heroes of the new covenant, that is, those who since the advent of Christ, and for the testimony of the holy gospel, have fought the good fight, even unto blood, yea, death; have finished their course; and steadfastly kept the faith, notwithstanding the various horrible torments; it would be impossible to speak briefly of it here, and do the subject full justice; for which reason we have done this in the following two books, to which we would refer the reader.

All this was written for a perpetual remembrance of the steadfast and blessed martyrs; concerning whom it is the will of God that they should not only always be remembered here among men, but whom he Himself purposes never to forget but to remember them with everlasting mercy.

The Sequel Compared with the Beginning of this History

We have already spoken of the great honor which custom conferred upon the brave and triumphant warriors; yet not one of all these, however great, mighty, valiant and victorious he may have been, or how great the honor and glory with which he may have been hailed, could in any wise be compared with the least martyr who suffered for the testimony of Jesus Christ.

Even aged and feeble persons, youths and maidens, and such as were not noticed, yea whom the world did not esteem at all, did infinitely more through the power of their faith, their ardent love to God, and, especially, their steadfastness unto death, whereby they were enabled to forsake, yea, despise, all visible things, and to put entirely out of their thoughts, forget, and bid, as it were, eternal adieu to, until the consummation of all things, money, property, houses, farms, brothers, sisters, parents, children, dear friends and relatives, yea their own bodies and lives, and everything pleasing and delightful according to the flesh; whereas others, if possible, gladly enjoyed and retained all this, and would fain have retained it always, or still retain it.

The honor, therefore, which is due to the holy martyrs, is infinitely greater and better than that of earthly heroes; just as the fight they fought, was infinitely more profitable, and their victory, as coming from the hand of God, infinitely more praiseworthy and glorious. [God is worthier than the creatures; heaven is worthier than the earth; and the soul is more excellent than the body; in the same manner the divine, heavenly and spiritual warfare is worthier and more excellent than the creatural, earthly and corporeal warfare; this is beyond contradiction. “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.” Prov. 16:32. Of this the apostle Paul glories, when he says: “I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air; but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection,” etc. I Cor. 9:26, 27. This praiseworthy fight, when he had brought it to a good end, caused him to say about the time of his death: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day, etc. II Tim. 4:7, &]

Through earthly wars countries and their inhabitants are destroyed, the innocent killed, the fugitive robbed of their property, and much weeping and mourning caused among those who remain. But through the warfare of the martyrs, at least through the martyrs themselves, the prosperity of countries and their inhabitants was promoted because of the fervent prayers offered up by the martyrs to God for those who did them harm and for the common welfare of all the inhabitants.

The life of the innocent, who otherwise would have had to die, yea, their spiritual and eternal life, was obtained and preserved through the medicine of their good teachings, admonitions, examples, and unwavering continuance to the end of life. The estates of men generally, both according to the soul and the body, they improved and multiplied, causing them to increase thirty, sixty, and even a hundred fold, by their uprightness, fidelity, benevolence, compassion, and incomparable mercifulness toward their fellow men.

They caused no one to lament or weep, by doing him the least damage or injury, but they greeted everybody, even their enemies, with kindness, embraced them with the arms of love, and gave them cause to rejoice and be glad, outwardly as well as inwardly, bodily and spiritually, here and (God granting them mercy) also hereafter.

O most delightful warfare, which did injury to none, but good to all. O ye blessed heroes, who fought this fight! No princes or kings can be compared to you; for all the honors won by earthly heroes on earth shall vanish with the earth; but your honor is an everlasting honor; your glory shall never cease, yea, shall endure, as long as God endures, whom you served.

Address to the Worldly-Minded

Come now, ye earthly-minded and ungodly, and learn here to become heavenly and godly-minded; ye impenitent, learn here to repent, and believe in Jesus Christ. Hither must come also all the self-willed, who, from a prejudiced opinion of their own do not consider the external commandments and ordinances of Christ as necessary, saying that there is not more required than repentance and faith, or a so-called irreproachable civil life. These shall learn here that the external commandments of Christ must be united with the internal, that is, the signs with the things signified; or, to express it clearly: one must be baptized on his faith and repentance; must keep the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of Him, etc.; for herein the holy martyrs were to them an example. [As we cannot look at heaven and earth at the same time, nor stand at once upon the mountain and in the valley, even so it is impossible to serve God and the world at the same time. Our Saviour says: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” Matt. 22:37. Concerning this it should be observed that if we must love God with all our heart, then no love for the world or sinful flesh may remain.]

Here the passionate must learn patience and meekness from the most patient and meek, who endured without murmuring the greatest reproach and ignominy, yea, even death. Here the unmannered are taught modesty; the proud, humility; the discontented, contentment; the avaricious, benevolence; the insatiably rich, voluntary poverty; those who live after their lusts, the forsaking of all carnal desires; the irreligious, piety; and the wavering and inconstant, steadfastness unto the end in all these things.

All this can be learned here, not so much by words as by deeds, from those who not only commenced the above virtues, but continued in them unto the end, yea, confirmed them through their death, and sealed them with their blood.

To the Young, the Middle-Aged and the Old

Besides, persons of every age may enter this school of practice in virtue; the young, the middle-aged and the old, all shall be led to true godliness by the living examples of those who went before them.

The young people who live after their lusts, and have not come to the light, will see here, that many of their equals, yea, who were only fourteen, fifteen, eighteen, twenty years old, or even younger, had at that age already forsaken the vanities of the world and the lusts of youth; nay, some so early that they had not yet come to know them, much less to practice, them; but that, on the contrary, so soon as they reached their understanding, they remembered their Creator and Saviour, bowed their youthful members under His yoke, accepted His commandments, obeyed Him with all their heart, and surrendered themselves willingly to Him, so that they, for His sake, did not spare their lives unto death. Eccles. 12:1; Prov. 23:26.

The middle-aged, who, like the firmly-rooted oaks of Bashan, are so deeply engrossed in, and joined to, earthly affairs and household cares, that it is next to an impossibility to detach them there-from because of their inseparable desire for the goods of this world; will see here people in the flower and prime of life, who might have gained much, but sought it not, because they would not miss the heavenly gain. These had a contented heart; they were clothed with coats of skins, only against cold and nakedness; they lived in huts or plain cottages, to be sheltered from rain, wind, hail and snow; they ate bread to satisfy their hunger, and drank water to quench their thirst; more they had not. [Surely no man in the world can derive advantage from the abundance of his temporal possessions over and above the necessaries of life. Why then, the manifold anxieties and cares to provide for the future in regard to the things which concern the body; since nature is so soon separated by death from all this? “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.” Matt. 6:33. “Casting all your care upon him,” (the Lord) etc. I Pet. 5:7.]

There they shall see that these contented people surrendered to God the strength of their bodies, their station in life, and whatever they had; so that they, having become members of His church, esteemed it greater riches to suffer with the same the reproach of Christ, nay death itself, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.

The aged, who have neglected their youth and middle life, and are now come to the eleventh hour, [Though it is not advisable in temporal things to put off doing the day’s labor until evening, yet it is better late than never. This holds good also in spiritual things.] and yet are still not working in the Lord’s vineyard, may here behold persons whose hoary head is a crown of glory, since they are found in the way of righteousness; who devoted their feeble powers, the short span of their life, yea their last breath, to the service and praise of their God and Saviour, watching and waiting for the hour of their departure and the day of their redemption, that they might become an acceptable offering to the Lord. They longed for the clock to strike twelve, so as to be admitted by the Lord and be seated at His glad feast.

When two of our last martyrs, Jan Claess of Alckmaer, and Lucas Lamberts of Beveren, an old man of eighty-seven years, received their sentence of death, at Amsterdam, Holland, in the forenoon of a certain day in the year 1544, Jan Claess said to the old man, Lucas Lamberts: “My dear brother, fear now neither fire nor sword. O what a glad feast shall be prepared for us, before the clock strikes twelve.” See II Book, year 1544.

All this and infinitely more the worldly-minded, ignorant and unbelieving are taught here. O that each of them would consider this well! Men are more easily converted by good examples than by good teachings, because examples are more impressive; yet here you have both.

Let every one come hither, therefore; and no one remain behind; all have need to be taught in the way of salvation; no one would choose to be unsaved. Here you shall see the patience, the faith, and the constancy of the saints. Have compassion upon your own souls, whom the Lord loves so dearly, seeking to lead them to heaven; yea for whom the Son of God has shed His precious blood, thus purchasing them with so great a price. We would commend this matter most urgently to you as well as to ourselves. O Lord, help! O Lord, let it prosper!

But it is now time that we turn our attention to giving instructions concerning the proper understanding and use of this work.

TH. J. Van Braght

Dort, July the 27th, 1659.

Thieleman J. Van Braght (1625-1664) was an Anabaptist who is best known for writing a history of the Christian witness throughout the centuries entitled “The Bloody Theater or Martyrs Mirror of the Defenseless Christians who baptized only upon confession of faith, and who suffered and died for the testimony of Jesus, their Saviour, from the time of Christ to the year A.D. 1660” (1660).

Thieleman J. Van Braght, Martyrs Mirror