The Martyr at the Stake

The Martyr at the Stake

May 3rd, 1964 @ 8:15 AM

Isaiah 51:1

Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the LORD: look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Isaiah 51:1

5-3-64     8:15 a.m.



On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas.  This is the pastor bringing the early morning message entitled The Martyr at the Stake.  These series of addresses, of messages, are delivered in preparation for the diamond jubilee, the sesquicentennial, the one hundred fiftieth anniversary of the organization of our denominational life, our missionary endeavor in America.  This month of May, within about two weeks, there will be gathered in Atlantic City a convocation of all of our Baptist people on the North American continent.  And it is in keeping with this year of celebration and jubilee of this nationwide, continent wide, organized Baptist work in America, that these several addresses have been prepared.

In the fifty-first chapter of Isaiah and the first verse, the great court preacher and prophet of God called Israel to a remembrance of their forefathers.  The reading of the text:  “Look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged.  Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you” [Isaiah 51:1-2].  And that is what we are doing in these days: looking unto the rock from whence we are hewn, and to the hole of the pit from whence we are digged.  We are reviewing some of the great chapters of our Baptist heritage, the infinitely precious truth that we received from their dying hands.  As I have pored through these old books, I knew somewhat of the cost of our Baptist faith, but I never knew of the extent of the rivers of blood by which its great doctrines have been bathed. 

Now, a brief summary of last Sunday morning’s address: in 324 AD, the greatest affliction that ever overwhelmed the Christian churches of Jesus came to pass in history when Constantine, the emperor of the Roman Empire, joined together the state and the church.  In order to make it more palatable to the pagan, civilized, Roman world, they also brought in to the Christian church the pagan temples, and priests, and liturgies, and robes, and ceremonies, and idols, and images, and all of the things that belong to the pagan worship of their heathen gods.  In 400 AD, Augustine promulgated the doctrine that an un-baptized baby was consigned to eternal hell.  And in 407 AD, the emperor set forth the edict that all babies must be baptized.  And in 550 AD, the emperor Julian signed the edict that everyone must be baptized, forced into the state church.

Just by way of parenthesis and illustration that these things are so poignantly current today, I have a tear-sheet out of Time magazine last week.  Listen to the reading of the words:


A child is born, takes a few agonized breaths, dies un-baptized, what then happens to its soul?  Un-baptized babies go to a fringe of hell.  Most Christians have always defended the necessity of baptism for salvation.  “They are vessels of contumely and the wrath of God,” wrote St. Augustine; “If no one frees them from the grasp of the devil, what wonder is it that they must suffer in flames with him?”


This is the religion that was made coercive by the Roman emperor when they joined state and church together, and when parents were forced to baptize their infants, lest, according to the doctrine of Augustine—whose great mind fell from one apostasy from the Scriptures after another—according to the doctrine of the established church, if a baby is not baptized it went to eternal hell.  So by force and by coercion the entire civilized world was forced into the established state church.

The churches of Alexandria, of Ephesus, of Caesarea, of Jerusalem, of Antioch were destroyed by the Mohammedan Saracen.  And the great churches of Constantinople were destroyed by the Mohammedan Turk.  That left the bishop of Rome without peer, supreme in the West; and he became the leader of the state established church.  And in those days of darkness that descended upon civilization, it looked as though the sun had set and forever.  But through those dark centuries, God was never without His true churches, and Christ was never without His true preachers, and the story that I say “bathed in rivers of blood.”  And the story largely shaped up around three great things: one, the Word of God, the Holy Scriptures, the Bible that I hold in my hand; second, the ordinance of baptism; and third, the relation of church and state.  Now, I have tried to sum up in just a few minutes hours and hours and hours of poring over these books of history, and centuries of this story of martyrdom: the martyrs of our Baptist faith.  So the best you can, come along with me as we rapidly go from one of these historical sequences to the other.

First, the Word of God: in 1176, there was converted a rich merchant in Lyons, France, by the name of Peter Waldo.  Being a wealthy man, an affluent man, he was able to hire scholars to translate the Word of God into the native languages of the people—into French, into Flemish, into German—and he sent lay preachers out, going up and down the highways, the streets of the city.  And having memorized the Word of God in the native language, they proclaimed the gospel to the people.  It was against the law of the state and established church for the gospel to be translated into the vernacular, to be said and repeated and preached in the native tongue.  So there began again, that violent martyrdom that bathed Europe again in blood. 

These people were called the “Waldensians.”  They were craftsmen, they were artisans, they were weavers.  When I was a boy, there would come to our house drummers; they opened their big cases, and showed my mother all kinds of calicos and cottons and ginghams and things like that, and mother would buy from the drummer, and make clothes—sew dresses, and make clothes from what she had bought.  The Waldensians were drummers and as they went from cottage to cottage and from palace to palace, as they opened their wares of silks and satins and gold and silver, and jewels, they would also bring with them the pearl of price, the Word of God.

Whittier, our American Quaker poet, describes the visit of a Waldensian seller, drummer, merchant, as he opens his wares to a fair, queenly lady, in a great palace.  And he finally says:

“O lady fair, I have yet a gem which purer lustre flings,

Than the diamond flash of the jeweled crown on the lofty brow of kings—

A wonderful pearl of exceeding price, whose virtue will not decay,

Whose light shall be as a spell to thee and a blessing on thy way!”


The cloud went off from the pilgrim’s brow, as a small, meager Book,

Unchased with gold or gem of cost, from his flowing robe he took!

“Here, lady fair, is the pearl of price, may it prove as much to thee!

Nay—keep thy gold—I ask it not, for the Word of God is free!”

[“The Vaudois Teacher,”  John Greenleaf Whittier]


The indescribable massacre of the Waldensians is written in blood.  So violent was the rage of the established church against these who scattered abroad the gospel of Christ and the Word of the Lord that John Milton wrote concerning their massacre one of his greatest sonnets.  In the Alps there had been cast down from the heights, mothers and children with babes in their arm, and these are the words of Milton:


Avenge, O Lord, Thy slaughtered Saints, whose bones

Lie scattered on the Alpine mountains cold;

[Forget not:] in Thy book record their groans

Who were Thy sheep, and in their ancient fold

Slain by the bloody Piedmontese, that rolled

Mother with her infant down the rocks.  Their moans

The vales redoubled to the hills, and they

To heaven.  Their martyred blood and ashes sow

O’er all the Italian fields, where still doth sway

The triple tyrant; that from these may grow

A hundredfold…

[“On the Late Massacre in Piedmont,” John Milton]


John Wycliffe was born in 1330.  And John Wycliffe gave himself to the translation of the Word of God into English, so that the boy behind the plow could know what God had written in the Holy Scriptures.  And again, John Wycliffe did the same kind of a thing that Peter Waldo did:  he sent out laymen.  They were called in England “Lollards,” and he sent out laymen with the Word of God in their hearts, and they preached and they delivered and they scattered abroad the Holy Scriptures.  That, of course, violated the law of the established church.  Every sheriff in England had to take an oath to hunt down the Lollards of John Wycliffe and to deliver a heretic to be burned in ten days after the heretic was accused.  England became a bonfire with the burning of those who preached and delivered the Word of God.  John Wycliffe escaped the fire, but they dug up his body and they burned it, and they scattered the ashes on the River Swift.  But the River Swift flows into the Avon, and the Avon flows into the Severn, and the Severn flows into the sea, and the sea bathes the shores of the continents of the world.  And the Scriptures of John Wycliffe were scattered over the face of the civilized world.  He died in 1384.

In 1385, John Huss brought his Bible and his writings to Prague, and there with the help of the queen, they sowed eastern central Europe down with the message of Christ.  Savonarola was burned in 1498.  The Renaissance, in those days, greatly accelerated the preaching of the Word; for men of letters began to appeal from the decrees of the established church to the text of the fathers, and from the text of the apostolic fathers to the Latin Vulgate, and from the Latin Vulgate to the Greek parchments themselves.  And in 1450 to 55, Guttenberg threw into the foment the first printed Bible; and men began to know the gospel of the Son of God.

Second: the rivers of blood that flowed around the ordinance of baptism; you see, when the Reformation came, the watchword of the Reformation was sola scriptura, “the Scriptures only.”  But the Reformation only took the part of the Scriptures that pleased the Reformers.  And the state church and the ordinances and practices of the state church remained under Luther, under Calvin, and under Zwingli.  There were those men who had their roots back into those centuries bathed in blood when they delivered the truth of the gospel message, and they said, “Nay, nay, a man is to be baptized upon a confession of his faith, as it says in the Word of God.  And a church is to be regenerated, en ekklēsia, as it says in the Word of God.  And no man is to be coerced in his faith.  There is to be a free church.”  This was the doctrine of the most hated and despised people the world has ever seen. 

To us, the name Anabaptist—a re-baptizer—has no connotation of ridicule and mockery or hatred; but in those days, the Anabaptist, the Anabaptist, by the very name in which he was called, was set aside as a mark of ridicule and shame and stigma, and ultimately execution and death.  For example, Menno Simon, one of their number, wrote:


While our murderers are saluted by all around as masters and lords, we are compelled to hear ourselves called Anabaptists, and are thus treated as the pests of society.  What misery and anxiety have I felt in the deadly perils of persecution for my sick wife and little children.  While others lie on soft beds and cushions, we must creep away into secret corners.  While others engage in festivities, we must look around whenever a dog barks, fearing the spies are on our tracks.  Yet those who suffered with Jesus then, reign with Him now.


These despised Anabaptists, who believe that on a confession of faith—not an infant—on a confession of faith according to the Word of God, we’re to be baptized into the body of Christ without coercion; the volitionary choice of a man’s soul before God [Acts 8:35-38].

Felix Manz, Felix Manz was born in 1498, the day, the year that Savonarola was burned.  In 1522, he and a little company around Zwingli began to differ over following the Word of God.  And Zwingli kept those ordinances and practices of the state established church and Zwingli promoted the state established church.  And Felix Manz, with a little group of young students around him, said, “Not so, according to the Word of God.”  He was exiled, he was persecuted.  Felix Manz preached the gospel in the fields and the forests, and especially in his mother’s home.  And the fifth day of January in 1527, he was marched through the streets of Zurich in shame, and in scorn, and in ignominy, and they said, “He likes water; let’s give him lots of water!” They bound his hands over his knees, they threw him in the Lamont River and he was drowned; the first Anabaptist martyr under the Protestant Reformation.  And from that day on, the Roman church and the Reformed churches persecuted Anabaptists alike; hated and despised—every other sect, and every other faith had some land to which they could turn for refuge, but the Anabaptists had no land, and no court, and no voice, and no friend who lifted up a standard that they might live.  The persecution was universal.

I have copied the testimony of two of those Baptist martyrs.  After five of them were drowned in the river, one was tortured on the rack to make him betray his brethren and especially to name the man who baptized him, but he cried in his suffering:


I am a citizen of heaven.  My country is everywhere, and my burial place anywhere.  I will not betray my brethren, even if you tear me to pieces.  My body is yours, sear it, lacerate it, destroy it if you please.  Increase your cruelty, you gain nothing.  My soul is free from torture, and full of joy from the consolations which God pours into my heart.  I have received the true baptism; the testimony of the Scriptures persuaded me to do it.  I have left a life of sin and put on the likeness of Christ—

and he died—


I copied the testimony of a simple-hearted miller as he was tried before the court of inquisition:


Since I heard the Word of God, renounced my irregular life, and was baptized in a confession of my sins, I have been persecuted by everyone; while before, when I was plunging into all manner of vice, nobody chastened me or put me in prison.  I am confined now in the tower like a murderer, and what is my crime?  What evil have I done? 


None, except he had trusted in Jesus and then, baptized upon a confession of his faith.

Balthazar Hübmaier, who received his doctor’s degree from the University of Ingolstadt, Balthazar Hübmaier was our greatest preacher and our greatest theologian. He was converted in 1522.  In 1526 he was exiled and imprisoned and hounded and persecuted.  Listen to Dr. Hübmaier as he describes the horrors of his dungeon imprisonment where no light of sun or moon penetrate, think of it:


Where no light of sun or moon penetrate, where bread and water are the only nourishment, and these cannot be taken for days together on account of the sickening odors, where the living are shut up with the dead, with no hope of escape but in death or recantation;


Living in filth, in impenetrable darkness in a dungeon, and when the dead prisoner died by his side, no release.  Oh, the heartbreak of it!  He wrote in one of those imprisonments, “Twelve Articles of Christian Belief.”  And he closed with this pathetic appeal:


O Holy God, O mighty God, O immortal God, this is my belief, which I confess with heart and mouth, and have witnessed before the church in water baptism.  Faithfully, graciously, keep me in that till my end, I pray.  And though I be driven from it by human fear and terror, by tyranny, pain, sword, by fire and water, yet hereby I cry to Thee, O my merciful Father, raise me up again by the grace of Thy Holy Spirit, and let me not depart in death without this faith.  This I pray Thee through Jesus Christ, Thy blessed, beloved Son, our Lord and Savior.  For in Thee, O Father, I hope.  Let me not be put to shame in eternity.  Amen.


They arrested Balthazar Hϋbmaier and his wife.  In the square in Vienna, March 10, 1528, they burned him at the stake.  When his wife refused to recant, three days later they took her to the Danube River and drowned her beneath the flood of its blue waters.

Menno [Simons], Menno [Simons]—I have here, and I’ll not take time to read it, a beautiful hymn still sung today, by the great Baptist preacher Balthazar Hübmaier—Menno [Simons] was a state established minister.  And in 1531 he witnessed the execution of an Anabaptist.  And the faithfulness of the man’s testimony, and that he died because he was baptized, sent Menno Simon, Menno Simon, sent Menno Simon to the study of the Word of God.  In those days, there were more than three hundred Baptists executed in a nearby village, and in agony of soul Menno Simon resigned his pastorate in the established church—his affluence, his prestige, his place—and joined himself to that hated and hunted sect.  I have here, and I’ll not take time to read it, Menno Simon’s words concerning the faith and the ordinances that he embraced.  He was an effective preacher like Balthazar Hübmaier.  One of the things that impresses me as I read this story of our martyred preachers is this:  I believe our people have produced more powerful witnesses to the truth of God than any other people in the earth.  Men who preach, men of fire, of zeal, of illimitable dedication, and Menno Simon was one.  These Mennonites that you know today are descendents from the Anabaptists who were pastored and won to Christ by this great Baptist preacher in the Netherlands.

Now I hasten to the last.  I have spoken of the rivers of blood that flowed around the Word of God, of the rivers of blood that flowed around the ordinance of baptism, believers’ baptism; now I speak of the rivers of blood that flowed around the conflict over state church.  The pilgrimage of the Anabaptists across Europe was a pilgrimage of martyrdom and blood.  To be baptized was to be executed per se.  It was that plain, it was that simple.  The reason they objected to the name Anabaptists, “re-baptizers,” was because to the Anabaptist, one baptized in infancy without a confession, a personal confession of faith in Christ, was not baptized at all.  But of course to the state church, the infant had been baptized, so these who baptized on a confession of faith were called Anabaptist, “re-baptizers.”

Inherently in the doctrine of a regenerated church, there is the corollary doctrine of disestablishment: you cannot have a state church that is built by coercion and force and at the same time have a regenerate church.  Inherently in the doctrine of the Anabaptists, was the disestablishment of the church and that caused the violent wrath of the Reformer and the Romanist on the head of the Anabaptist.  He was the only man in the world—and his testimony was delivered alone and in blood—he was the only man in the world who held up the doctrine of religious liberty: that a man ought not to be coerced in the faith, but every soul ought to have its choice of a right to believe, or a right not to believe.

In those days of awful blood and persecution, slain everywhere, one of those histories described the highways and the trees as being filled with the dangling, decaying, dead bodies of executed Anabaptists.  They were slain by the thousands, and the thousands, and the thousands everywhere.  And in those days, in the providence of God, there came a tremendous light and help from heaven.  It came in the person of “William the Silent,” Prince of Orange, called “William the Silent” because when he was confidentially told by Henry II of France that he had a secret treaty with Philip II of the Holy Roman Empire, that they were going to destroy all the Anabaptists in the earth, William the Silent nonchalantly listened to it, kept it to himself.  Charles V, king of Spain, and king of the Holy Roman Empire, slew more than fifty thousand of them in less than twenty-five years in the Netherlands alone.  He was succeeded by his son Philip II; and in those dark and terrible days, William of Orange—William, Prince of Orange, William of the province of Orange—raised up a banner of freedom and liberty. 

And in those terrible days, when our Baptist people were dying by the thousands and the uncounted thousands, there came to Prince William of Orange a delegation of those poor, persecuted Baptists.  They had taken up an offering for the prince.  And with the explanation that they were burdened with the widows and the orphans of the thousands of their number who had been martyred, they said, “We pray for your prosperity, and wish to help.”  And Prince of Orange said to those Baptist people, so poor and stricken, “What demand thee to make of me?”  And they replied, “None, your grace, except your friendship, if God gives you the government of Netherlands.”

He pledged them his friendship.  The Prince of Orange won the government of Netherlands.  And against the castigation of his closest friends, he was true to that promise to the letter.  And there was in the world, a land of refuge for the hated and the hunted and the persecuted.

Over in England, John Smyth, pastor of an Anglican parish, studying the Word of God, joined himself to a Separatist congregation in 1602.  In 1611, they had removed to the Netherlands for freedom.  In his congregation was William Brewster, who later joined the little congregation at Scrooby; and both of them fled out of Holland into the Netherlands.  There in the Netherlands, John Smyth became an Anabaptist; and he baptized Thomas Helwys, his successor as pastor of the little church.  And William Brewster, as you know, with his little flock and congregation came to New England and settled in a little place called Plymouth, Plymouth, on the shores of Massachusetts.  But in 1611, Thomas Helwys, who was the pastor of the little remaining church there in the Netherlands, decided it was not right for them to escape persecution in England, but the little congregation ought to return to bear witness to the freedom of God in the Holy Scriptures in the country of England.  So they returned in 1611, and when he returned, the pastor of that little Baptist church addressed a letter to King James I, and listen to the word that he wrote.  I’ve copied it exactly as he’s written it and I wish you could read the spelling here.  “Hear, O King,” said the pastor of that little congregation to the king of England, James I, in 1611:


Hear, O king, and despise not ye counsel of ye poor, and let their complaints come before thee.  The king is a mortal man, and not God; therefore he hath no power over ye immortal souls of his subjects, to make laws and ordinances for them, and to set spiritual lords over them.  If the king have authority to make spiritual lords and laws, then he is an immortal god, and not a mortal man.  O king, be not seduced by deceivers thus to sin against God, whom thou oughtest to obey, nor against thy poor subjects. 

God save ye, King.

Thomas Helwys

Spitalfields, near London.


First time in the history of the world a king ever heard words like that.  He was placed in prison, of course; and in 1616 he died.  But among the converts who listened to the new gospel of freedom was a man by the name of Roger Williams.  And we pick up the story there next Lord’s Day.

I close.  One of the things that came to my mind as I pored through those books, how were those persecuted and hated and hunted Baptists, how were they able, in fortitude and courage, to bear up under so tragic a trial for so many centuries?  Nobody befriended them.  The Reformers had their state churches and their governments; the Baptists had no voice, no court, no friend.  How did they bear up seeing their children, their families decimated, their own bodies wasting and rotten in prison?  How did they bear up?  They looked to Jesus.  They believed in His kingdom coming [Matthew 6:10, 25:31].  They believed in the personal appearing of the Lord [Acts 1:11].  They believed that as He had died [Matthew 27:32-50] and was raised from the dead [Matthew 28:1-7], so He would come in triumph and in glory [Matthew 24:30].  And they were fortified and encouraged in that promise of the blessedness of the coming of Jesus [Titus 2:13].  It’s an astonishing thing; an astonishing thing!


I saw the martyr at the stake,

The flames could not his courage shake,

Nor death his soul appall:

I asked him whence his strength was given,

He looked triumphantly to heaven,

And answered, Christ is all!


I dreamed that hoary time had fled,

The earth and sea gave up their dead,

And fire dissolved this ball:

I saw the Church’s ransomed throng;

I caught the burden of their song—

‘Twas this, Our Christ is all in all in all!

[“Christ is All,” Rev. Dr. Edmond]


Buried [Matthew 27:57-61], raised [Matthew 28:1-7], ascended [Acts 1:9-10], reigning [, coming again someday in glory and in power [Matthew 24:30].  If we suffer with Him, we shall reign with Him [2 Timothy 2:12] . . . if we die with Him, we shall live with Him [2 Timothy 2:11].  Oh blessed, blessed faith!

We’re going to sing “Faith of Our Fathers,” and while we sing that hymn of personal and corporate consecration and dedication, somebody you, give his heart to Jesus; somebody you, put his life in the fellowship of the church; a family, a couple, one, while we sing the song of appeal, make it now.  Choose today, while we stand and while we sing.