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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
There were many Anabaptists, who suffered for the truth's sake at the hands of Papists and Protestants in the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland. In the Martyrs' Mirror, and the Baptist Martyrology, there are hundreds of cases recorded.
In all of these places the persecutions were legalized both by civil enactment, and by ecclesiastical sanction. In Germany, by the edict of King Ferdinand in 1527, death was the penalty for Anabaptism. The Emperor Charles V caused them to be hunted down and put to death. In 1529, at the Diet of Spires, it was ordained that death should be visited upon every Anabaptist. There also met at Homburg in 1536, a Diet composed of the Reformers of Germany and their followers in church and state.
Luther and Melancthon were among the number. That body sanctioned the punishment of Anabaptists, even by death, by the civil authorities. At the beginning of the Reformation, the first to suffer martyrdom in Germany were Hans Koch, and Leonard Meyster, who were put to death at Augsburg in 1524. They were said to have been descendants of the Bohemian and Moravian Waldenses, and were placed at the head of the list of Anabaptist martyrs. Michael Satler, who had been a monk, was put to death in 1527, for uniting with the Anabaptists, and marrying a wife. He was executed in a most barbarous manner. His tongue was cut out, his flesh torn with red hot pincers and his body finally burned.
Leonard Schoener, a barefooted monk, growing disgusted with the hypocrisy and wantonness of the monastic orders, became an Anabaptist under the ministry of Hubmeyer. He was an educated man. Having preached throughout Bavaria, he was beheaded, and then burnt at Rottenburg, in 1528. Hans Schloffer was tortured with great cruelty, and questioned by the priest upon the subject of infant baptism, He answered, "that we must first preach the word, and baptize those only who hear, understand, and believe and receive it. This is true Christian baptism and no infant baptism. The Lord has nowhere commanded to baptize infants."
At Alzey there was a wholesale slaughter of Anabaptists in 1529. Three hundred and fifty were confined in prison 'and literally dealt out to the executioner like sheep to the slaughter, as fast as the executioner could dispatch them. In whose body, then, was the cruel soul of Nana Sahib? Those who were waiting their turn to die, sang until the executioner came for them. It was at this same place—Alzey— that nine brethren and three sisters were imprisoned, and when they refused to renounce their faith, were put to death, the men by the sword and the woman by drowning. A sister came to comfort the female prisoners while they were yet in prison and exhorted them to be true and firm, despite their sufferings, and for the sake of the eternal joy to come to them. For this visit—for comforting and strengthening these suffering saints—she was burned to death.
Two young girls were arrested at Bamberg, shortly after their baptism, and after being cruelly tortured to make them recant, were burned to death. While going to the stake their tormentors put upon their heads, in derision, crowns of twisted straw, when one of the girls said to her companion, "Our Saviour wore a crown of thorns for us, and shall not we wear these harmless crowns for him? and, besides, we shall soon be crowned by him with glorious crowns of gold."
Among many Christians condemned to be burned at Saltzburg, there was a young and beautiful girl of sixteen. Even the hearts of her persecutors were moved, and after vainly trying to persuade her to recant, the executioner took her in his arms to a trough for watering horses, that was near by, and thrusting her head under the water, held it there until she was dead. Wolfgang Brand-Hueber was an Anabaptist preacher, who was put to death at Lintz.
This was one hundred years before Roger Williams' celebrated proclamation of civil and religious liberty in Rhode Island, and yet this martyr expressed the same sentiments when he taught that obedience and submission should be rendered to magistrates in all things not contrary to God. This has ever been Baptist belief. And to this day, there is not full liberty in Germany for our brethren.
The Anabaptists appeared in Switzerland in 1523. According to Erasmus, they were numerous there in 1529. They suffered there at the hands of the Reformed. The first decree against them imposing a fine, was passed by the Senate at Zurich, one of the Cantons, in 1525. In 1526, another decree was passed, making the penalty for Anabaptism—death. It forbade believers' baptism, and compelled the baptism of infants.
And these laws were made with the full approbation of the reformers, who were intensely active in securing their execution. And yet, Bullinger, one of the reformers, testifies, "For the people said, 'Let others say what they will of the Dippers, we see in them nothing but what is excellent, and hear from them nothing else but that we should not swear, or do wrong to any one, that every one ought to do what is right, that every one must live godly and holy lives. We see no wickedness in them.’"