Love Under Fire


Chapter 13—The Netherlands and Scandinavia

In the Netherlands the tyranny of Rome drew a protest very early. Seven hundred years before Luther, two bishops fearlessly denounced the pope after being sent as envoys to Rome, where they had learned the true character of the “holy see”: “You set up yourself in the temple of God. Instead of a pastor, you have become a wolf to the sheep.... While you ought to be a servant of servants, as you call yourself, you try to become a lord of lords.... You bring the commands of God into contempt.”1 LF 101.1

Over the centuries, others rose up to echo this protest. They translated the Waldensian Bible into the Dutch language. They declared “that there was great benefit in it; no jokes, no fables, no meaningless talk, no lies, but the words of truth.” This is what the friends of the ancient faith wrote in the twelfth century.2 LF 101.2

Then Rome's persecutions began, but the believers continued to multiply, declaring that the Bible is the only infallible authority in religion and that “no one should be forced to believe, but should be won by preaching.”3 LF 101.3

The teachings of Luther found earnest and faithful men in the Netherlands to preach the gospel. Menno Simons, educated as a Roman Catholic and ordained to the priesthood, was completely ignorant of the Bible and would not read it because he was afraid it was heresy. He tried to silence the voice of his conscience by ungodly living, but he did not succeed. After a while he was led to the study of the New Testament. Along with Luther's writings, this caused him to accept the reformed faith. LF 101.4

Soon afterward, he saw a man put to death for having been rebaptized. This led him to study the Bible regarding infant baptism. He saw that repentance and faith are required as the condition of baptism. LF 101.5

Menno left the Catholic Church and devoted his life to teaching the truths he had received. In both Germany and the Netherlands a class of fanatics had emerged, offending public order and decency and leading toward revolt against government. Menno strongly opposed the false teachings and wild schemes of the fanatics. For twenty-five years he traveled across the Netherlands and northern Germany, exerting a widespread influence, demonstrating in his own life the principles he taught. He was a man of integrity, humble and gentle, sincere and earnest. Many people were converted through his work. LF 101.6

In Germany, Emperor Charles V had banned the Reformation, but the princes restrained his tyranny. In the Netherlands his power was greater, and persecuting decrees followed one another in quick succession. To read the Bible, to hear or preach it, to pray to God in secret, to refrain from bowing to an image, to sing a psalm—all of these things were punishable by death. Thousands were killed under Charles and Philip II. LF 102.1

At one time a whole family was brought before the inquisitors, charged with remaining away from mass and worshiping at home. The youngest son answered: “We fall on our knees, and pray that God may enlighten our minds and pardon our sins. We pray for our king, that his reign may be prosperous and his life happy. We pray for our officials, that God may preserve them.” The father and one of his sons were condemned to the stake.4 LF 102.2

Not only men but women and young girls displayed unflinching courage. “Wives would stand by their husband's stake, and while he was enduring the fire they would whisper words of comfort, or sing psalms to cheer him.” “Young girls, condemned to be buried alive, would lie down in their living grave as if they were going to their room for nightly sleep. Others would go out to the scaffold and the fire, dressed in their best clothes, as if they were going to their marriage.”5 LF 102.3

Persecution increased the number of witnesses for truth. Year after year the emperor urged on his cruel work, but he did not succeed in stamping out the Reformation. William of Orange finally brought the freedom to worship God to Holland. LF 102.4