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  • HISTORY OF THE REFORMATION -
    THE ANABAPTISTS OF MUNSTER. CHASTISEMENT


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    (1535 — 1536.)

    THE landgrave Philip of Hesse having, meanwhile, entered Westphalia with the troops which had just made the conquest of Wurtemberg, Munster was soon so completely invested that nothing, and especially no food supplies, could any longer enter the town. The dearth became more and more severe, and the miserable people were driven to have recourse for sustenance to the most unaccustomed food. They ate the flesh of horses, dogs and cats, dormice, grass, and leather; they tore up books and devoured the parchment. Half the population of the town, it was said, died of starvation. These fanatics had trusted in the word of their king and prophet, and had awaited with confidence the succor which he promised them; but, as this succor did not arrive, murmurs began to be heard from some of them, and others appeared to go mad. Beckhold had told them that, if it were necessary for saving his people, the stones would be turned into bread. Consequently, some of these votaries might be seen stopping in the streets, biting the stones and attempting to tear them to pieces, in expectation of their being converted into nourishment. At length, despair, madness, and inhumanity proceeded to the bitterest extremities.

    The wife of the senator Menken, one of the working men raised to this dignity by Bockhold, killed her three children, salted their bodies, and placed the parts thus cured in jars, in this way making abominable provision for her own subsistence, and on this she fed day by day. f515 The wretched inhabitants of this ill-fated town wandered with tottering steps about the streets, the skin wrinkled over their fleshless bones, their necks long and lank, hardly able to sustain the head, their eyes haggard and opening and shutting with sudden jerk, their cheeks hollow and emaciated, with lips which death seemed to be about to close, corpses in appearance rather than living beings. In the midst of this appalling spectacle which recalls the greatest distresses recorded in history, even the destruction of Jerusalem, there was, it is said, in the king’s palace abundance, feasting, and debauchery. f516 The enthusiasts, during this time, were causing much trouble in Holland; but they did not succeed in bringing help to their brethren. At the beginning of 1535, a certain number of them proposed to burn Leyden; fifteen were arrested and beheaded. In February, others ran naked about the streets of Amsterdam by night, crying out, ‘Woe! woe! woe!’ They also were executed. Near Franeker, in Friesland, three hundred of them assembled and took possession of a convent; but they were all put to death. Bockhold, impatient to get the succor of which he was in sore need, delegated Jan van Geelen, a clever, crafty man, to stir up a revolt in Holland, and to return to his aid with an army which should raise the siege of Munster, and help him to conquer the world. Jan van Geelen, by a feigned renunciation of his errors, obtained a pardon from Queen Mary.

    Having entered Holland, he was able secretly to attract a large number of followers; and in a short time he conceived the project of surprising Amsterdam by night. He did, in fact, get possession of the town-hall; but the towns-men, aroused by the tocsin, drove away the fanatics with cannon-shot, not without suffering great losses themselves, particularly in the death of a burgomaster. The rebels were cruelly treated. Many of them were stretched upon butcher’s blocks, had their hearts torn out, and were then quartered. On all these occasions a certain number of women were, as usual, drowned. f517 These successive defeats made an impression on Bockhold and his partisans. They lost all hope of aid from Holland. The landgrave, Philip of Hesse, one of the most powerful chiefs of Protestantism, had brought up his forces to put an end to the scandals of Munster. The bishop of this city, impelled by the desire to reconquer it, had assembled for the purpose some Roman Catholic soldiers. One of Bockhold’s men escaped from the town and pointed out the way to capture it. In the night of June 24, 1535, two hundred lansquenets cleared the foss and scaled the wall at a point where it was very low. They were no sooner within the town, than they uttered cries and beat the drum. The men of the king of Zion leaped out of their beds and ran to arms. The conflict began and was for a moment doubtful; but one of the city gates having been opened from within, the army of the besiegers entered and the fight became terrible. A hundred and fifty horse- or foot-soldiers lost their lives. On the side of the besieged many also fell, and amongst others Rottmann who, resolved not to suffer the disgrace of captivity, threw himself with intrepidity into the midst of the fire and perished. The king and two of his principal counselors, Knipperdolling and the pastor Crechting, made their escape and hid themselves in a strong tower, where they hoped to escape the notice of the conquerors. But the soldiers penetrated into their place of concealment, dragged them out and made them prisoners. Bockhold at first braved it out, and assuming the air of a king spoke arrogantly to the bishop. Two theologians of Hesse endeavored to bring him to repentance; but he obstinately held to his opinion, admitting no superior to himself on earth.

    Reflection, however, wrought a change. Bockhold was not a fanatic, but an impostor; and he felt that the only way to save his life was to abjure his errors. He asked for a second conference with the two Hessians and feigned conversion. ‘I confess,’ he said to them, ‘that the resistance I have offered to authority was unlawful; that the institution of polygamy was rash, and that the baptism of children is obligatory. If pardon should be granted me, I pledge myself to obtain from all my adherents obedience and submission.’ He likewise acknowledged that he had deserved to die ten times over. This was the behavior of a knave, willing to abandon even his imposture, if, by so doing, he might save his life. Knipperdolling and Crechting, on the contrary, persisted in their views, and asserted that they had followed the guidance of God. Cruelty of various kinds was inflicted on these wretched men. They were led about publicly, during the month of their detention, like strange animals, as a spectacle to the several princes and their courts, to whom they and their pretended king were made a subject of ridicule. Bockhold did not derive from his confessions the advantage which he expected. The three leaders were all sentenced to the same punishment, the penalty of high treason to a supreme head. This took place in February 1586. In the barbarous period of the Middle Ages imagination had been racked for the invention of the most cruel punishments. These three wretches were conducted to the great square of Munster, where Bockhold, as king, had borne the scepter and the triple crown, and his executive minister Knipperdolling the sword. They were then laid out naked; and their bodies were plucked to pieces with hot pincers, until at length, amidst hideous tortures, pincers, fire, sword and excruciating sufferings had put an end to their life. This process lasted an hour. Cochlaeus himself exclaims, — ‘Cruel, horrible punishment! a terrible example to all rebels!’ Knipperdolling and Crechting bore with courage the frightful infliction, and Bockhold, apparently recovering good sense, was determined not to die the death of a coward. Not a groan escaped him. After he had breathed his last they pierced his heart with a dagger.

    It was Philip of Hesse and his soldiers of the reformed party who chiefly contributed to put an end to the disorders and cruelties of which Munster had been the scene. The only result of this episode for Protestantism was to demonstrate that it had no connection with the fanaticism of these would-be inspired ones. Protestant opinion was on this occasion distinguished by various characteristic features. Its intention was that punishment should be inflicted not for the religious doctrine of the enthusiasts, but only for their rebellion and other ordinary crimes. There have been, indeed, and there are especially at the present time a large number of pious and zealous Christians who advocate adult baptism; and we are bound to respect them although we do not share their views.

    Moreover the baptism practiced by the enthusiasts of Munster, was not that of the sect of Baptists; it was a proceeding which denoted adhesion to the fanatical system the triumph of which they pretended to insure, a ceremony such as is adopted in many secret societies. The essential characteristics of their system were their alleged visions, their unquestionable licentiousness, the confusion which they brought upon the institutions of social life, their tyranny and their cruelty.

    Various opinions were entertained as to the punishment which ought to be inflicted on them. Luther by a letter expressed clearly and briefly what he thought on the subject. He was not greatly troubled. ‘It does not disturb me much,’ he said; ‘Satan is in a rage, but the Scripture stands fast.’ f522 The landgrave Philip was always an advocate of the most lenient measures; he had no desire that the punishment of death should be inflicted upon them, as had been done in other countries. He consented only to their being imprisoned; and he insisted that they should be instructed. The evangelical towns of Upper Germany acted upon the same principle and refused to stain their hands with the blood of these unhappy men. But it was decreed by a majority of the Germanic Diet, that all enthusiasts who persisted in their false doctrines should be put to death.

    Thus were confounded, as it has been said, two things as remote from each other as heaven and earth, evangelical doctrine and the confusion introduced into churches and states by these fanatics. The unfortunate men were put to death, whether they were visionaries or not; and not only were culpable disorders put down with a strong hand, but evangelical doctrine was also banished from Munster. f523 Three causes especially contributed to bring about these hideous disorders of the fanatics. First, the bloody persecutions carried on by Charles V. in the Netherlands against all those who desired to worship God according to their conscience; next, the doctrines of the enthusiasts, mingled sometimes with immorality, which Tanchelme of Antwerp, Simon of Tournay, Amalric of Bena, the Turlupines, the Pseudo-Cathari, and the Brethren of the Free Spirit, had for centuries professed in different countries, and especially in the Netherlands and on the banks of the Rhine, and which had lately been revived there by emissaries from Germany; and finally, the need for a change in the social order felt at this period by the least industrious and most fanciful men of the lower orders, and especially of the class of artisans.

    After the terrible catastrophe which put an end to the kingdom of Zion, there still remained, undoubtedly, some enthusiasts and libertines, particularly David Joris. But many of them settled down and returned to more wholesome doctrines. One of these, Ubbo of Leuwarden, had been consecrated bishop of the new sect and had in turn consecrated others, Menno Simonis in particular. Ubbo made public confession of his error; ‘I have been miserably mistaken,’ he said, ‘and I shall lament it as long as I live.’ f524 We have narrated the horrible episode of Munster, and we have exhibited it like one of those placards which we have sometimes met with in the Alps, nailed to a post near an abyss, on which were to be read such words as these, — ‘Traveler, beware! anyone approaching falls and rolls over, and hurled from rock to rock, is dashed to pieces and killed, the sad victim of his rashness.’

    TRIUMPH IN DEATH (THE NIGHT OF THE 18TH FEBRUARY, 1546, AT EISLEBEN) Luther had throughout his life refused the aid of the secular arm, as his desire was that the truth should triumph only by the power of God.

    However, in 1546, in spite of his efforts war was on the point of breaking out, and it was the will of God that his servant should be spared this painful spectacle.

    The Counts of Mansfeld, within whose territories he was born, having become involved in a quarrel with their subjects and with several Lords of the neighborhood, had recourse to the mediation of the reformer. The old man — he was now sixty-three — was subject to frequent attacks of giddiness, but he never spared himself. He therefore set out, in answer to the call, and reached the territory of the Counts on the 28th of January, accompanied by his friend the theologian Jonas, who had been with him at the Diet of Worms, and by his two sons, Martin and Paul, the former now fifteen, and the latter thirteen, years of age. He was respectfully received by the Counts of Mansfeld, attended by a hundred and twelve horsemen.

    He entered that town of Eisleben in which he was born, and in which he was about to die. That same evening he was very unwell and was near fainting.

    Nevertheless, he took courage and, applying himself zealously to the task, attended twenty conferences, preached four times, received the sacrament twice, ad ordained two ministers. Every evening Jonas and Michael Coelius, pastor of Mansfeld, came to wish him good night. ‘Doctor Jonas, and you Master Michael,’ he said to them, ‘entreat of the Lord to save his church, for the Council of Trent is in great wrath.’

    Luther dined regularly with the Counts of Mansfeld. It was evident from his conversation that the Holy Scriptures grew daily in importance in his eyes. ‘Cicero asserts in his letters,’ he said to the Counts two days before his death, ‘that no one can comprehend the science of government who has not occupied for twenty years an important place in the republic. And I for my part tell you that no one has understood the Holy Scriptures who has not governed the churches for a hundred years, with the prophets, the Apostles and Jesus Christ.’ This occurred on the 16th of February. After saying these words he wrote them down in Latin, laid them upon the table and then retired to his room. He had no sooner reached it than he felt that his last hour was near. ‘When I have set my good lords at one,’ he said to those about him, ‘I will return home; I will lie down in my coffin and give my body to the worms.’

    The next day, February 17, his weakness increased. The Counts of Mansfeld and the prior of Anhalt, filled with anxiety, came to see him. ‘Pray do not come,’ they said, ‘to the conference.’ He rose and walked up and down the room and exclaimed, — ‘Here, at Eisleben, I was baptized.

    Will it be my lot also to die here?’ A little while after he took the sacrament. Many of his friends attended him, and sorrowfully felt that soon they would see him no more. One of them said to him, — ‘Shall we know each other in the eternal assembly of the blessed? We shall be all so changed!’ ‘Adam,’ replied Luther, ‘had never seen Eve, and yet when he awoke he did not say “Who art thou?” but, “Thou art flesh of my flesh.”

    By what means did he know that she was taken from his flesh and not from a stone? He knew this because he was filled with the Holy Spirit. So likewise in the heavenly Paradise we shall be filled with the Holy Spirit, and we shall recognize father, mother, and friends better than Adam recognized Eve.’

    Having thus spoken, Luther retired into his chamber and, according to his daily custom, even in the winter time, opened his window, looked up to heaven and began .to pray. ‘Heavenly Father, he said, ‘since in thy great mercy thou hast revealed to me the downfall of the pope, since the day of thy glory is not far off, and since the light of thy Gospel, which is now rising over the earth is to be diffused through the whole world, keep to the end through thy goodness the church of my dear native country; save it from falling, preserve it in the true profession of thy word, and let all men know that it is indeed for thy work that thou hast sent me.’ He then left the window, returned to his friends, and about ten o’clock at night retired to bed. Just as he reached the threshold of his bedroom he stood still and said in Latin, — ‘In manus tuas commendo spiritum meum, redemisti me, Deus veritatis!’

    The 18th of February, the day of his departure, was now at hand. About one o’clock in the morning, sensible that the chill of death was creeping over him, Luther called Jonas and his faithful servant Ambrose. ‘Make a fire,’ he said to Ambrose. Then he cried out, — ‘O Lord my God, I am in ,great pain! What a weight upon my chest! I shall never leave Eisleben.’

    Jonas said to him, ‘Our heavenly Father will come to help you for the love of Christ which you have faithfully preached to men.’ Luther then got up, took some turns up and down his room, and looking up to heaven exclaimed again, — ‘ Into thine hand I commit my spirit; thou hast redeemed me, O God of truth!’

    Jonas in alarm sent for the doctors, Wild and Ludwig, the Count and Countess of Mansfeld, Drachstadt, the town clerk, and Luther’s children.

    In great alarm they all hastened to the spot. ‘I am dying,’ said the sick man. ‘No’ said Jonas, ‘you are now in a perspiration and will soon be better.’ ‘It is the sweat of death,’ said Luther, ‘I am nearly at my last breath.’ He was thoughtful for a moment and then said with faltering voice, — ‘O my heavenly Father, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God of all consolation, I thank thee that thou hast revealed to me thy well-beloved Son, Jesus Christ, in whom I have believed, whom I have preached, whom I have confessed, whom the pope and all the ungodly insult, blaspheme, and persecute, but whom I love and adore as my Savior. O Jesus Christ, my Savior, I commit my soul to thee! O my heavenly Father, I must quit this body, but I believe with perfect assurance that I shall dwell eternally with thee, and that none shall pluck me out of thy hands.’

    He now remained silent for a little while; his prayer seemed to have exhausted him. But presently his countenance again grew bright, a holy joy shone in his features, and he said with fullness of faith, — ‘God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ A moment afterwards he uttered, as if sure of victory, this word of David, — ‘He that is our God is the God of salvation; and unto God the Lord belong the issues from death.’ Dr. Wild went to him, and tried to induce him to take medicine, but Luther refused. ‘I am departing,’ he said, ‘I am about to yield up my spirit.’ Then returning to the saying which was for him a sort of watchword for his departure, he said three times successively without — interruption, ‘Father! into thine hand I commit my spirit. Thou hast redeemed me, O God of truth! Thou hast redeemed me, O God of truth!’

    He then closed his eyes. They touched him, moved him, called to him, but he made no answer. In vain they applied the cloths which the town-clerk and his wife heated, in vain the Countess of Mansfeld and the physicians endeavored to revive him with tonics. He remained motionless. All who stood round him, perceiving that God was going to take away from the church militant this mighty warrior, were deeply affected. The two physicians noted from minute to minute the approach of death. The two boys, Martin and Paul, kneeling and in tears, cried to God to spare to them their father. Ambrose lamented the master, and Coelius the friend, whom they had so much loved. The Count of Mansfeld thought of the troubles which Luther’s death might bring on the Empire. The distressed Countess sobbed and covered her eyes with her hands that she might not behold the mournful scene, Jonas, a little apart from the rest, felt heartbroken at the thought of the terrible blow impending over the Reformation. He wished to receive from the dying Luther a last testimony. He therefore rose, and went up to his friend, and bending over him, said, — Reverend father, in your dying hour do you rest on Jesus Christ, and steadfastly rely upon the doctrine which you have preached?’ ‘Yes,’ said Luther, so that all who were present could hear him. This was his last word. The pallor of death overspread his countenance; his forehead, his hands, and his feet turned cold. They addressed him by his baptismal name, ‘Doctor Martin,’ but in vain, he made no response. He drew a deep breath and fell asleep in the Lord. It was between two and three o’clock in the morning. ‘Truly,’ said Jonas, to whom we are indebted for these details, ‘thou lettest, Lord, thy servant depart in peace, and thou accomplishest for him the promise which thou madest us, and which he himself wrote the other day in a Bible presented to one of his friends: Verily, verily, I say unto you, if a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.’ f526 Thus passed Luther into the presence of his Master, in full reliance on redemption, in calm faith in the triumph of truth. Luther was no longer here below, but Jesus Christ is with his people evermore to the end of the world, and the work which Luther had begun lives, is still advancing, and will extend to all the ends of the earth.

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