Monday, May 7, 2012

May 07, 2012

First Martyrs: Witnesses of Truth

Who was the first to die for the faith? The first to judge truth and God’s glory more important than life itself? Each of the “Reformation faiths” had their share of witnesses, and here are the first such men for the Lutheran, Calvinist, and Anabaptist traditions. (I apologize if there were others who took the title of “first” --- this is what I found while researching, but I will give honor where it is due if I discover otherwise).

Heinrich Voes and Johannes Esch. These two young men shared a common factor with their spiritual mentor Martin Luther . . . they first stepped into history as Augustinian monks.  These first Lutheran martyrs did not live in Germany but in Belgium, and they were burned at the stake in June 1523. This was six years after the world-changing 95 Theses were posted on the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther wrote the song “Flung to the Heedless Winds” in honor of Esch and Voes. The lyrics can be found in my post of March 25. 

Huguenot (Calvinist)
Jean Valliere was burned in August 1523 for professing Protestant beliefs. Along with Louis de Berquin and Jacques Pavennes, Jean is known as one of the first “Huguenot” martyrs, but I think they were in fact the first Protestant martyrs in France --- they were of the Lutheran tradition. The Calvinistic tradition with which the Huguenots were associated did not emerge until the 1530s). The year was 1525. Two years earlier the blessed words of Christ had appeared in the French tongue, converting countless souls to this new and joyous doctrine.

I was unable to find the first Calvinist martyr in France, but I did find a man who was one of the first. Pierre Brully, a pastor particularly enthused over John Calvin’s explanation of Scripture, was sentenced to burning in 1545. As Calvinism spread through France during the early 1530s as far as I know, I imagine he was one of the first to give his life for that faith. Brully lived for a time in Strasbourg and died in Tournai in Belgium.

Felix Manz was considered the first Anabaptist martyr, being condemned in January 1527. The Anabaptists were distrusted by both Protestant and Catholic factions due to their austerity in moral issues and their stance on adult baptism, and Manz was sentenced to drown in the Limmat River in Zurich, Switzerland. Many martyrs chose bits of Scripture to illustrate their confidence in salvation and to prove their ability and willingness to suffer for their faith. Manz said, “into Thy hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.’

Why should we honor and admire the “Reformation faiths” martyrs? It is human nature to protect one’s own life no matter the cost. The idea that there were and are men and women who love Christ and His pure doctrine enough to give up even their very lives in deference to Him is one of the most extreme examples of sacrifice that history has ever yielded. These early martyrs were faced with horrific fates and yet they never reneged on the challenge. They remained calm and steadfast. They fought the fight and kept the faith. They won the crown. The blessed crown of eternity.

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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