Teachings of Menno Simons | 8

36. Duties toward the Magistracy

In temporal things we teach and exhort that the emperor, king, lords and princes, yes all in authority, are to be sincerely obeyed in all their laws and regulations as far as they are not contrary to God's word. (Rom. 13:1-3).

Therefore we pray you through the mercy of God, O ye great ones of the earth whom we acknowledge as our gracious lords in all temporal things, that you let the eternal mighty King, Jesus Christ be the only Saviour, Lord and Sovereign of our souls,

even as He was ordained of His Father, and you confine your service and office to temporal matters to which you have been called. For we desire with all our hearts to render "unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's."

Again, that we should be disobedient to the magistracy in the things to which they are ordained of God is not true; understand me, in lawful things, such as working on dykes, roads and rivers, paying duty, taxes, tribute, etc.

But that they, contrary to Jesus Christ, by commandments of men, undertake to rule and lord it over our conscience, following their own wantonness and not the will of God,

to this we do not consent, but much rather sacrifice possessions and life, than for any man's sake, be he even emperor or king, to sin knowingly against Jesus Christ and His holy word.

The writings which we have published during several years abundantly prove that the accusation against us of disobedience to the magistracy is unfounded and untrue.

We confess and have always confessed as long as with our small talent we have served the word of the Lord, that the office of the magistrates is ordained of God;

and we have always been obedient to them when their demand was not contrary to the word of God, and we desire to do so all our lives.

For, we are not so ignorant but know well what the word of God teaches and demands of us in this respect:

Taxes and duties we pay, as Christ has taught us and Himself has rendered (Matt. 17:22). We pray for the imperial majesty, kings, lords, princes and all in authority and honour and obey them (I Tim. 2:2; Rom. 13:1).

We resist neither the emperor, king, nor any authority in that over which they are given jurisdiction by God, but we are ready to render all obedience even unto death in all things that are not contrary to God and God's Word, and we know well what the Scriptures teach and enjoin concerning this matter (Rom. 13:1-8).

But we desire mercy of you to the extent that we, under your gracious protection, may in liberty of conscience live, teach, work, and serve the Lord.

37. Liberty of Conscience

Tell me, kind reader, where have you, in all the days of your life read in the apostolic Scriptures, or heard, that Christ or the apostles called upon the power of the magistracy against those who would not hear their doctrine or obey their words?

Yea, reader, I know to a certainty that wherever the government is to perform the ban with the sword, there is not the true knowledge, Spirit, word and church of Christ.

I repeat, if we are disobedient to God in religious matters, we are willing and anxious to be instructed, taught, and corrected by the Word of God, for we strive diligently to do and to fulfil His most holy will.

Or if we are not obedient unto the Emperor in matters over which God has called and ordained him to rule, then we will willingly submit to punishment, such as should, in your judgment be laid upon us.

But if we with all our heart seek and fear the Lord our God, as I trust we do, and are willingly obedient to the imperial majesty in temporal things, as we should be according to the Word of God,

and notwithstanding for the sake of the truth of the Lord we must suffer and be persecuted, and put to death, then it is in our place to consider that "the disciple is not above his master nor the servant above his lord."

Yet you should know and realize, O ye beloved, illustrious lords, ye judges and keepers of the law, that as often as such are apprehended, condemned and put to the sword by you,

you thrust your tyrannical sword into the blessed body of our Lord Jesus for they are "of his flesh and of his bones" (Eph. 5:30); they are His chosen, beloved brethren and sisters who are with Him born from above of one Father (John 1:13)

- From their whole heart, drawn and led by the Holy Spirit, they have through faith given themselves to the service of our beloved Lord Jesus Christ

and henceforth do not live according to their own will, but alone according to the will of God and the direction of His holy blessed word.

They would surrender all they possess upon earth and suffer slander, scourging, persecution, anxiety, famine, thirst, nakedness, cold, heat, poverty, imprisonment, banishment, fire, sword or any other manner of death

rather than to deny the Gospel of grace, forsake the truth of God, or depart from the love which is in Christ Jesus. But the vain doctrines and commandments of men they will not accept.

Faith is a gift of God, therefore it cannot be forced upon any one by worldly authorities or by the sword; alone through the pure doctrine of the holy Word and with humble ardent prayer it must be obtained of the Holy Ghost as a gift of grace.

Moreover it is not the will of the Master of the house that the tares should be rooted up as long as the day of reaping is not at hand, as the Scriptural parable teaches and shows with great clearness.

Now if our persecutors are Christians, as they think, and accept the word of God, why do they not heed and follow the word and commandment of Christ?

Why do they root up the tares before the time? Why do they not fear, lest they root up the good wheat, and not the tares?

Why do they undertake to do the duty of angels who, at the proper time, shall bind the tares in bundles and cast them into the furnace of everlasting fire?

Since we injure no man upon the whole earth in the very least by our faith, or unbelief (as they say), it would be right that they commit us with our belief or unbelief to the Lord and His judgment alone who at His own time will judge all, and not like savage mad pagans proceed against us with their devouring sword.

It is the right and true disposition of a true, pious Christian to seek the poor erring sinner to repentance and not to destruction, as these do.

Christ Jesus with His powerful word and Holy Spirit is the protector and Lord of His church, and not the emperor, king, or any worldly potentate.

The kingdom of the Spirit must be protected and defended by the sword of the Spirit, and not with the carnal sword. This is, according to the doctrine and example of Christ and His apostles, too clear to be controverted.

Further I say:

If the government rightly knew Christ and His kingdom, they would in my opinion, rather choose death, than with their worldly power and sword undertake to settle spiritual matters, which are not subject to the authority of man but to that of the great and almighty God alone.

But now they [the magistrates] are taught by their theologians that they should arrest, imprison, torture and slay those who are not obedient to their doctrine, as may, alas, be seen, in many cities and countries.

Beloved rulers and judges, if you take to heart these cited Scriptures, and diligently reflect upon them, you will observe that your office is not your own, but God's office and service:

and it is in your place to humble yourselves before His majesty, fear His great and adorable name and rightly and reasonably perform your ordained office;

further that you should not so unscrupulously, with your earthly and temporal power, undertake to adjust that which belongs to the jurisdiction and kingdom of Christ, the Prince of all princes,

you should not by your iron sword judge and punish that which is reserved solely for the judgment of the Most High, namely the faith and matters pertaining thereto,

as also Luther and others maintained in the beginning, but after they had come to a higher and more exalted station, they have forgotten it all.

How haughtily do they assume without any awe or fear the authority of God and the office of the Holy Ghost;

they drive Jesus Christ, the head of all princes and powers, to whom is given all power in heaven and on earth, from the throne of His divine majesty,

and judge with their iron sword, after their own blind opinion and carnal purpose the chosen God-fearing, pious hearts who are enlightened in God through Jesus Christ.

Say, beloved where do the Holy Scriptures teach that in Christ's kingdom and church, conscience and faith which stand under the authority of God alone, are to be regulated and ruled by the violence, tyranny, and sword of the magistracy?

In what instance have Christ and the apostles ever done, advised or commanded this?

For Christ says simply: 'Beware of the false prophets,' and Paul commands that a heretic is to be shunned after three admonitions. John says that we shall not greet or receive into our houses the transgressor who does not bring the doctrine of Christ.

But they say not:

Down with the heretics, arraign them before the magistrates, imprison them, drive them from cities and countries, cast them into the fire and water,

as the Romans have done for many years, and even now is found to a great extent among you who fancy yourselves to adhere to the Word of God.

Do not excuse yourselves, beloved sirs and judges, on the plea that you are the servants of the Emperor:

It will not acquit you in the day of vengeance. It availed Pilate nothing that in the name of the Emperor he crucified Christ.

Serve the Emperor in civil matters as far as the Scripture warrants, and serve God in divine matters. In the day of Christ you cannot justify yourselves by the authority of men.

Do not interfere with Christ's jurisdiction and kingdom, for He alone is the ruler of the conscience and beside Him there is none other; let Him in this matter be your Emperor and His holy word your placard and you will soon become tired of tyranny and murdering.

Besides, the proud, carnal, worldly, idolatrous and tyrannical princes who do not know God (I speak of the evil princes) set up their mandates, decrees and laws as authoritative, however much they may be contradictory to God and His blessed Word;

just as if the almighty Father, the Creator of all things who holds heaven and earth in His hands, who rules all things by the Word of His power,

had ordained them to command, rule and according to their own judgment prescribe ordinances not only in the temporal kingdom of this perishable world, but also in the heavenly kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.

O no, beloved, no. This is not the will of God, but it is an abomination in His sight if mortal man will usurp for himself His authority.

I think, beloved brethren that I have clearly shown that the excuses of the tyrants by which they would avert their tyrannical murdering to be just and right, are heathenish in principle.

Say now, all who are guilty of innocent blood and who would palliate your conduct with the mandate of the Emperor, where have you read a single word in all the teachings of Christ which gives authority to torture or put to death any one for the sake of faith?

Where have the apostles ever taught or countenanced such a practice?

Should not matters of the spirit, i. e., of faith, be subject to the judgment of the spirit alone?

Why do the Emperor and you undertake to usurp the authority of God, judging things which you understand not and which are not committed to you?

Do you not consider what befell Pharaoh, Antiochus, Herod and many others, because they feared not the Most High and raged against His people?

Dear men, how wilful, arrogant and proud you are toward Him who created you! Do you suppose that the Scriptures are mocking us and are not the truth?

The first parable is explained by Christ himself:

"He that sows the good seed is the Son of man; the field is the world (understand it rightly, the field is the world, and not the church, as Gellius would have it);

the good seed are the children of the kingdom, but the tares are the children of the wicked one; the enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels." Matt. 13:37-39.

My reader, understand it rightly:

Christ, the Son of man sows His seed (God's word) through His Spirit in the world. All who hear and believe it and fulfil it in obedience are here called the children of the kingdom.

In the same manner the enemy sows his tares (false doctrine) in the world, and all that hear and follow him are called the children of evil.

Both wheat and tares grow together in the same field, namely the world:

The husbandman does not want the tares to be plucked out before their time, that is, he desires not that they should be delivered to destruction, but be permitted to remain until the harvest, lest the wheat be destroyed with the tares.

Oh my reader, if the preachers rightly understood this parable and had the true fear of God, they would not cry out so vehemently against us poor people who, alas, everywhere are in their opinion tares, Anabaptists and schismatics:

Away and to death with the heretics - even if we held heresies, from which God preserve us. Alas, alas! it is the good wheat which they thus destroy.

But what does our testimony avail? Satan must persecute and murder, for it is his nature and work, as the Scriptures teach.

38. Higher Education

Reader, do not misunderstand me:

Learning and a knowledge of languages I have never in my life despised, but have from my youth honoured and loved.

Although I have not acquired them, yet (thanks be to God) I am not so bereft of my senses that I should despise or ridicule the knowledge of the languages through which the precious word of divine grace has come to us.

I wish from my heart that I and all the pious possessed such learning, if we could in true humility use it rightly to the praise of our God and the service of our neighbour, in the pure fear of God.

39. Worldly Titles

Say, kind reader, did you ever hear or read that the holy apostles and prophets were covetous of such high, vain titles, as are the theologians and preachers of the world?

It is true, the word Rabbi or Master was applied to the ambitious scribes and Pharisees, but not to the apostles and prophets. For, we do not read of Doctor Isaiah, or Master Ezekiel, or Reverend Paul or Peter.

No, no; those who have rightly taught the Word of the Lord were not in their time honoured by the world with such high-sounding names.

40. Anti-Secrecy

Lo, kind reader, thus we have from the beginning of our ministry been ready and desirous to give an account of our faith to every person who asked it in good faith, whether they were ruler or citizen, learned or unlearned, rich or poor, man or woman.

And today we are ready to do so as far as is possible to us, for we are not ashamed of the Gospel of the glory of Christ.

If anyone desire to hear from us, we are prepared to teach; if any one wish to know our principles, it is our hearty desire, if our writings do not suffice, to explain them clearly:

- For it is our earnest endeavour that the truth may be brought to light.

But the blood-thirsty murder of Antichrist must not be attempted, I say, for it is of the devil and inconsistent to a Christian.

41. Duties to Children

The Holy Scriptures teach that God purifies the heart by faith that faith comes by hearing, and righteousness through faith.

Therefore let all parents who truly love their children take heed that they rightly and clearly instruct them from the Word of God as soon as they may be able to receive and understand it;

that they may guide them in the way of truth and zealously watch over all their life;

that they may from youth learn to know the Lord their God, to fear, love, honour, thank and serve Him; so that the inborn evil nature of sin may not rule in them nor overcome them to the everlasting shame of their poor souls.

Therefore all you who fear the Lord and love your children with a love that is of divine nature, seek their salvation with all your heart, even as Abraham, Tobit and the Maccabean mother did.

If they transgress, correct them firmly; if they err, exhort them lovingly; if they are childish, bear them patiently; as they are able to receive it, instruct them Christian-like.

Dedicate and consecrate them to the Lord from their youth; watch over their souls as long as they are committed to your care, that you may not lose your heavenly reward on their account.

Pray without ceasing as this pious Syro-phoenician woman, that the Lord may grant them His grace, that they may resist the devil, subdue their sinful nature through the Lord's Spirit and help,

and walk from their youth up before God and His church in all righteousness, truth and wisdom in a true, firm faith, unfeigned love and living hope, in an upright and holy life, unblameable and without offence, abounding in the fruits of faith unto eternal life. Amen.

My beloved brethren and sisters in Christ, who sincerely seek to follow God's Word, instruct your children from youth up, and daily admonish them with the word of the Lord; set them the example of a blameless life.

Teach them and admonish in proportion to the development of their understanding, constrain and correct them with discretion and moderation, without anger or bitterness, lest they be discouraged. Spare not the rod if necessity requires it.

I write and admonish you again, take heed lest the blood and condemnation of your children come upon you:

If you love them with a godly love, teach, admonish and instruct them in God, lest the word, blood and death of the Lord be made unto them of no effect and His name and church be slandered on their account by the unwise.

Pray to almighty God for the gift of His grace, that in His great mercy He may guide and keep them through His Spirit in the right path. Be concerned about their salvation as for your own souls.

Teach, instruct, admonish, threaten, correct and chastise them as may be required.

Do not permit them to keep company with undisciplined, wicked children among whom they hear and learn nothing but lying, swearing, fighting and knavery.

Urge them to read and practice writing and bring them up in habits of industry.

My brethren in Christ, if we should see any one in danger of being drowned or burned, or in any dangers that threaten their lives, and there were a prospect that we could render them help, would not our inmost souls be moved with compassion toward them, if we might afford relief? Undoubtedly!

And now we see with our own eyes, if we but believe God's Word that they are walking in the shadow of eternal death and liable to be devoured by hell and its unquenchable fire, unless from their heart they turn unto Christ and His word, repent and be saved as the Scriptures teach.

Therefore consider the terrible wretchedness of their poor souls which will live forever, either in heaven or in hell;

and strive diligently and faithfully that in some way, through your faithful ministry of love and by the direction and instruction of the divine word they be rescued and delivered from everlasting destruction and be made partakers of salvation.

For genuine love is of such a nature that it is constantly hungering and thirsting after the glory of God and the salvation of all men, even of those who are strangers to us according to the flesh.

42. The Glorious Hope

Finally I beseech and exhort you to consider with all diligence and earnestness that which is promised in the world to come to all the overcomers and soldiers of Jesus Christ, namely the incorruptible, eternal kingdom, the crown of glory and the life that will remain forever.

Therefore, O thou people of God, put on thine armour and make ready for the conflict - not with external weapons and armour as the blood-thirsty barbarous world, but alone with unwavering faith, tranquil patience and fervent prayer.

It will and cannot be otherwise, the combat of the cross must be fought and the winepress of suffering must be trodden.

O thou bride and sister of Christ, prepare thyself! The thorny crown must pierce thy head and the nails transfix thy hands and feet; thy back must be scourged and thy face spit upon.

Gird thyself and be prepared, for thou must go with thy Lord and Bridegroom without the camp, bearing His reproach. At the place of the gallows thou must offer up thy sacrifice.

Watch and pray. Thine enemies are more numerous than the hairs of thy head or the sand of the sea:

Though their hearts, hands, feet and swords are exceedingly red and stained with blood, be not dismayed, for God is thy leader. Thy life on earth is an incessant warfare. Fight valiantly and thou shalt receive the promised crown.

For although the children of Abraham were grieved with much sorrow and pain for some hundreds of years, yet the Lord according to His promise led them forth victoriously and gave them the land of promise.

So also it will be with us if we doubt not His promises, but cling to them with a firm faith, as Abraham; if by faith we fear, love, honour, thank and serve the Lord who has given them, walk in His commandments and possess our souls in patience,

though ever so lamentably we are persecuted by the hellish Pharaoh and his fierce, unmerciful servants, though we be oppressed, smitten, robbed, murdered, burned at the stake or drowned in the water,

yet shall the day of our salvation quickly arrive and all our tears shall be wiped from our eyes and we shall be arrayed in the white silken robe of righteousness and with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob follow the Lamb and sit down in the kingdom of God, and possess the land of eternal peace.

Praise God, ye who suffer for Christ's sake, and lift up your heads, for the time is near when ye shall hear, "Come ye blessed," and ye shall then eternally rejoice with Him.