A deep love and commitment to Jesus Christ brings an overflow of grace and power into a life. This grace and power brings influence on the world of souls around us. Sometimes this fragrance is sweet to the seeking heart, and sometimes it is a stench to the hard and impenitent. All who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. This suffering brings more grace, a deeper love for God, and more burdens for the lost. In time, this process makes a powerful, dynamic church, which is the body of Christ on the earth. The annals of church history are scattered with testimonies of this upflaming of God’s people, fueled with the effects of persecution.
There was a precious group of people like this that lived in parts of Europe in the sixteenth century. Their persecutors named them Anabaptists because they believed in believer’s baptism and renounced their infant baptism in the Church of Rome. Oh how they loved the Lord Jesus! Oh how they loved the Word of God and wanted to obey it in every way! Persecution and martyrdom awaited these dear people everywhere they moved. From 1525 to around 1600, multitudes of them gave their lives for the cause of Christ. This covers the span of about three generations. I have thought for some time, “These little flocks were powerful people. They must have had some powerful homes.” There is only one problem. There is very little recorded about them, and very little mentioned about their homes.
Some time ago the suggestion was made to search through the records of the martyrs of that period of history. There is a large book called The Martyr’s Mirror which sits on the shelves of nearly every home in the community where we live. It contains eleven hundred pages of letters and stories with vivid accounts of trials, confessions, and deaths. We have gone through this book and found a gold mine of inspiration and instruction. There are many letters written from prison. There are letters from a father or a mother to their children just before they were burned at the stake. There are letters from a husband to a wife and vice versa. There are also letters of young people written to their parents. I had to read between the lines as I searched for the gold, because nothing is given as direct teaching on the home. However, the gold is clearly there.
I have been teaching for some time now that a dedicated life which is truly lived, behind closed doors, will produce godly children. This principle has never been so clearly revealed as it has in this study of the Anabaptists and their children. Through persecution, grace has flown like a river from the parents to the children who lived with them. I want to look at several ways in which this took place. Forgive me for the lack of stories and interesting historical events, but there simply is no such record of these things. I think the authorities of the Roman Church and other state churches wanted to stamp out the very memory of these God fearing people. Instead, their lives produced another generation of vibrant Christians that frustrated and confounded these authorities. I believe that we and our children will face persecutions in the days to come. It will be good for us to see if we are on track with the parents who raised a generation of young people, willing to die for the faith once delivered to the saints. Come with me as we read between the lines, and let us see what we can find.
Love and Unity in Marriage
One of the most important foundation stones in a holy household is the love that flows between husband and wife. It is one of those silent, mysterious influences that shapes the inner strength and security of the children. When mom and dad love each other deeply, it seems the children can weather many trials and troubles.
So it was with the Anabaptists. I was inspired and challenged as I read letter after letter to and from the prisoners. There are a few principles that caught my attention as I read. First of all, I noticed that their fellowship with the Father and His Son was so sweet, that they called each other brother and sister in the Lord, though they were husband and wife. Secondly, I kept seeing the words “one,” “oneness,” and “one flesh,” as I was reading. Without question, they had a powerful oneness in their marriages, which was referred to over and over. I believe this was because they were living under the anointing of the Spirit. There is a unity that the Spirit gives. It cannot be manufactured simply by agreement. It is the fruit of two lives who walk with God together. Look at the heart in this godly marriage:
I, Martin van der Straten, your dear husband and brother in the Lord, wish you much grace and mercy from God our heavenly Father. Out of a fond heart permeated with love, my chosen love, I affectionately greet you. O my dearest love, whom I love with all my heart, in accordance with the Word of God, that a man shall leave father and mother, and cleave to his wife. For you, O my dear lamb, are flesh of my flesh and bone of my bones. My dearly beloved, whom I took by the hand with tears of joy, I hope and trust that you are also well in soul and body.
The True Faith
Oh to pass on a living, vibrant faith that is real and can be seen! This is the longing of every sincere parent. I have observed that there must be a vibrant faith in the parents if there will ever be the same in the children. A good church won’t reach them. Good preaching is not enough either. The torch has to be burning in the heart and hand of one generation if you want it to be burning in the next generation. These martyrs were dying for their faith. It wasn’t merely theological. The faith to them was in fact a faith on the inside, but it was practical too. That is why many of them died. Like begets like, as the proverb goes, and this is never truer than in the home. What does our faith look like? Will our children die for it? Or will their faith be like the faith of millions of professing Christians, that does not bring even a ripple of persecution? Listen to the heart of this godly father, as he writes his last words to his daughter:
My dearest daughter, diligently search the holy scriptures and you will find that we must follow Christ Jesus and obey Him unto the end. You will also find the little flock who follows Him. This is the sign: they lead a penitent life. They are not conformed to the world. They avoid that which is evil, and delight in doing what is good. They hunger and thirst after righteousness. They crucify their sinful flesh more and more every day, to die unto sin, which wars in their members. They strive and seek after that which is honest and of good report. They do evil to no one, and they pray for their enemies. They do not resist their enemies, and their word is their seal. They are sorry that they do not constantly live more holily, for which reason they often sigh and weep.
The Word of God
I don’t think we American Christians have any idea about the powerful affect the Bible can have on our children. Some even think that too much Bible reading will make you mad. That is what one worldly magistrate said to the apostle Paul. Some say, “That’s brain washing.” Well, I think we could use some good washing of our brains in the polluted society in which we live. If we fill the child’s mind full of the word of God, then he will be thinking about it all his formative years. And guess what? “Whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.”
These Anabaptists were in love with the Bible. They had a New Testament with them at all times. It was open, and they read in it during all spare moments at work or at home. The fathers would encourage the children in their letters to read it every free chance they could get. It was read and taught diligently in the home. They had Bible in the morning, Bible at breakfast, and Bible at supper. They reverenced God’s Word that much. The children were all taught to read and write at home. Why? One reason only—so that they could read and write from God’s Word.
As you read the many letters and debates that are recorded in The Martyr’s Mirror, you will notice one thing immediately: they read like the Bible. So many of their sentences are direct quotes from the Bible. The letters flow along like a letter, and yet they are writing verse after blessed verse from the scriptures. One thousand pages of this are enough to convince anyone that these people knew their Bibles. They must have had hundreds of verses committed to memory. I know for sure that they were not allowed to have a Bible in the prison. They simply wrote out the memory of their hearts. How did this happen? “From a child, thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which is able to make thee wise unto salvation.” The parents had to be placing the precious seed into their hearts. They had to be filling the empty spaces of time with the water of the Word, not the newspaper and not the television. Wake up American Christians—wake up! Let us prepare ourselves, and prepare our children.
WANTED: Humble Parents
Often parents come to me with many failures to confess. They often ask me, “What shall I do?” and “How do I relate my failures to my children?” I always give them the same counsel. I tell them to gather the family together for a meeting and humble themselves through confession. Many parents are reluctant to do this. They fear they will lose the respect of their children, and then their children won’t obey them. Nothing could be further from the truth. When you as a father or mother humble yourself before your children, they actually respect you much more, because you are being honest. They know when you haven’t done right. If you keep silent about it and play the hypocrite, you lose.
As I was searching through these letters, I noticed something interesting about most of the parents’ last thoughts and words. They spoke a lot about how they had failed the family many times. Now I could tell by the counsel they were giving that these were powerful Christian men and women. They could have just as easily mentioned many things that they had done right, but that didn’t fit the Sermon on the Mount. These people were poor in spirit and full of mourning up to the day of their death. If the strong ones who are an example to us can confess failure, how much more can we who are failing in many areas. Maybe it is time to have a good old fashioned family revival, and then walk in humility before the family.
A Life of Devotion
Enoch walked with God, Noah walked with God, Abraham walked with God, and their children followed them and their God. There is a secret here. A simple secret here that we don’t want to miss. They saw Him who was invisible and lived to show the next generation the same. We have looked into many home histories, and have found this important key in every one of them. The dear Anabaptist martyrs are no exception. In fact, it is truer than in any other history I have studied. Wheras we usually find some parents here and some parents there who truly walked with God before their children, here we find a multitude who did. I know it wouldn’t be right to pray for persecution, but what an anemic bunch of Christians we are! We need some suffering and purifying.
I found prayer everywhere. They prayed in the morning when they arose from the night’s sleep. They prayed before they ate a meal together, and then again at the close of the meal. They prayed before they went to bed at night, and prayed as they were going from place to place. It seems to me they were praying without ceasing. I know they had to pray, because they were not sure if someone would come in the night to take them away. Brethren, we have to pray also, but we just don’t know how badly we need to do it.
Their lives seemed to flow with devotion to Christ. The fathers were encouraging the children to read and meditate at every free moment, and they did the same. This fosters an entire life of devotion to God, not just a mere segment of time at the start of the day. Many of us have fallen so low that we don’t even have that. Can we expect to convince our children that God is a living God if we never have any communion with Him? I think not.
We Hate Sin and the World
To the Anabaptist martyrs and the Anabaptists who were still allowed to live, sin and the world were dangerous things. It seems every dying father or mother had something to say to the children about these twin sisters of destruction. Sin separates you from the Living God, and to them that was the greatest tragedy that could happen to a person. So they warned each child over and over to prepare them to stand in the evil day, “The world is the place where suffering and persecution come. Don’t go out into it more than you have to.” It was very clear to me as I read. The world is not a playground, but a battlefield where the forces of good and evil are fighting for the souls of men.
I wonder what we are teaching our children about sin and the world. By our words and by our example, we are teaching them something about these two evils. The world—what is it in the eyes of the children? A place to make lots of money? A fun place to play and laugh? Bright lights, fast cars, lots of music and movies? What about sin—how do they see it? Do they think like modern Christianity, “Everybody sins most of the time, praise God for the Blood?” Dear parents, evil communications corrupt good manners (behavior). Listen to the words of a father who was going to be burned at the stake not many days hence:
My dearest only daughter; consider the wickedness of the world, the learned, and the magistrates, how they shed innocent blood, and are called spiritual Christians. I beseech you my dearest daughter, do not follow them. Read the scriptures and when you shall attain your years, pray the Lord that he will show you what is good and what is evil, what is lies and what is truth, the way of perdition and the narrow way that leads to eternal life. When you see pomp, boasting, dancing, lying, cheating, swearing, fighting and other wickedness, know my child, this is not the right way. Do not follow their ways, though they allure you in an inviting manner, and promise you fine things. Therefore my dear daughter; follow Christ and beware of sin, that you do not commit it, for you will be saved through Him.
The Law of the Kingdom is love—powerful, all prevailing love. Sometimes I think we pass over this word like it was “a,” “the,” “it,” or some other small word. It is not. It is the most influential word in the Bible. I know that it has been watered down to a mere emotional experience these days. Nevertheless, let us draw it out of the lives of these Anabaptist martyrs and see what it looks like. It is understandable by now, that the persecution anointing they had filled them with the divine nature. Love is the dominant attribute of divine nature. These dear people had a double portion of agape love in their homes. I found this bonding glue oozing out all over the letters that I read. How can it be that they who were hated and despised by most are the ones who are baptized in love? This is one of those divine paradoxes that only the suffering learn.
It is evident to me that love reigned at home. Love between all the members of the family. You know, you can go through just about anything, if you are loved and dwell in an atmosphere of love. In the letters, this love overflowed to the ones receiving the letter. It overflowed from husband to wife and vice versa. It went from parents to children, children to parents, and even children to children. It is a love that can be sensed deeply, and yet a love that does right and tells the truth in right counsel. This is what we need in our homes: a deep, sincere love that needs to show no pretense. A love that can look one in the eye and the heart and say, “I love you,” and known to be true by the sincerity of the heart and the actions in the life. Listen to the heart of a son who is writing to his mother before he died:
My dear mother, I wish you the gracious, eternal, merciful Father, and the love of God, and the comfort of the Holy Ghost. My very dear and affectionately beloved mother who bore me in your own body, and brought me into the world with great pain. Yes, your breasts have nourished me and you have nourished and instructed me in all truth. You, dear mother, have kept me from all sinful companions; yea you have kept me from the whore of Babylon. You have brought me into the church of the living God. You have kept me from sin, according to your best ability.
The last holy influence I would like to look at briefly is the effect that poverty had on the next generation of the Anabaptists. They were persecuted and chased from village to village. They never knew when they would suffer the spoiling of their goods again. They never knew when they would have to rise in the night and flee with only the few items that they could carry. So many of the fathers wrote with much sadness to their children, “I have no money to leave you as I die.” This left mother with the financial burden of the family. Many times a young son had to rise up and grow up quickly, because of the need. This had many blessed effects on the children:
They learned to work hard from a young age, and work became a way of life for them. They thought nothing of it. It was for the cause of Christ. Not much time for play.
They learned to do without many things. This taught them the exercises of self-denial.
They did not lay up many treasures on earth. Why should they? The thieves would come and break through and steal.
Their poverty wrought poverty of spirit in the inner man. This caused them to lean upon the Lord continually.
There are many more things we can learn from these dear people. I have only scratched the surface. Remember, the book has a thousand pages in it! I would encourage you to get a copy of The Martyr’s Mirror and do some more reading between the lines. I have listed below the pages that we found on the home. Enjoy!
The challenge that I would like to leave you with is this: What about our families? Are we ready to weather a strong dose of persecution? Have we prepared our children for such things? The Anabaptists knew that their children would probably face a burning fire. They trained them for it. There is a theology of martyrdom. It was a greatly prized honor to those of the early church. How do we look at it? It will not go away. We, the church, will not be shielded from martyrdom. Don’t kid yourself. If the rapture was going to take care of everything, then why are people being martyred today? There are more martyrs now in the last one hundred years than in all the years preceding it.
Dear Father, wake us up. Before it is too late, wake us up. Give us the grit and the grace to raise a generation of children who would thrill at the opportunity to die for the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon