By 1573, the Protestant Reformation had grown large enough to be noticed, but not large enough to match the power of the Roman Catholic church. In that limbo, dissenters became targets for Roman Catholic persecution. Anabaptists--who would not resist because of their religious convictions--became particularly easy targets for both Protestants and Catholics.
Janneken van Munstdorp was an Anabaptist who lived near Antwerp, Belgium. She was one of the many martyrs who died for her faith and was celebrated in the Martyrs Mirror, a collection of Anabaptist firsthand reports from the 16th century. Munstdorp was arrested with her husband of six months, Hans, who was quickly executed. Janneken, however--who was carrying their first child--was allowed to deliver her baby in prison and give the child to her friends. A few weeks before she was burned at the stake, she wrote this testimony to her then-one-month-old daughter, to whom she passed on her own name, Janneken. The letter is lengthy and heart-wrenching, but powerful. If you have a few minutes to join me, sit back and enter into this new mom's world--just as it was coming to a close--and admire her courage, conviction, and compassion. -Daniel
Testament written by Janneken, while in prison at Antwerp, addressed to her daughter, A.D. 1573.
May the true love of God, and the wisdom of the Father, strengthen you in every virtue, my dearest child. May the God of heaven and of earth, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, the Lord of Israel, preserve you in every virtue and strengthen your understanding in his truth. I commend you, my dear infant, to God. …
But since the Lord has so ordained it, that I must leave you here, deprived of both father and mother, I will therefore commend you to the Lord, to do with you what seems meet in his sight; he will provide for you, if you only fear God, for he is a father to the orphan and a protector to the widow.
I, your dear mother, in prison, cannot help or provide for you, because I had to leave your father for the Lord's sake, with whom I lived but six months. Then we were both apprehended and separated, because we sought to work out our souls' salvation. They took him from me, and I knew not whether I was encient [pregnant] or not; I had yet to remain in prison and see him go on before, which caused me great distress. But after patiently spending my time solitarily, and carrying you nine months under my breasts, I bore you, after many excruciating throes; they then took me away from you, and I am now waiting here every morning to meet death, and will soon follow your dear father. Hence, I write this to you as a memento of your dear mother.
Since I have been condemned to die, and have to leave you here, I take this method to remind you, that, if you come to the years of discretion, you would fear and serve God diligently; examine and learn why and for whose sake we both were put to death, and be not ashamed to confess us before the world—for we did not suffer as evil-doers. [See 1 Peter 2:20; 4:15-16.] Therefore, be not ashamed of us, for it is the way in which the prophets and apostles had to go before us—for there is no other way in which we can be saved.
Therefore, my dear one, for whom I had great sorrow and anxiety of mind, if you attain the years of discretion examine well into this way, although you may expect much tribulation and affliction on it and be exposed to many imminent dangers, as we may see and read if we examine the scriptures—for they mention many of the sufferings of Christ in this way: but the world seek to be free from all these, by turning the back upon Christ. But, my dear child, if we desire to reign with Christ we must also suffer with him—we must bear the cross—and this is the cross that Christ would have us to bear, namely: that we should walk in his footsteps, and help to bear his reproach; for Christ himself declares: Ye shall be hated and persecuted for my name’s sake! [See Matthew 10:22; 24:9.] Yea, he himself went before us in this way of reproach, and left us an example, that we should follow His steps; for, for His sake all must be forsaken, father, mother, sister, brother, husband, child, yea, one’s own life.
I must now also forsake all this for the Lord’s sake, which the world is not worthy to suffer; for if we had continued in the world, we would have had no trouble. For when we were one with the world and practiced idolatry, and loved all manner of unrighteousness, we could live at peace with the world; but when we desired to fear God, and to shun such improper ways, well knowing that this could not please God, wherefore we sought to shun all this, and turned from idolatry to the worship of the living God, and sought here in quietness and gentleness to practice our faith, then they did not leave us in peace; then our blood was sought; then we had to be a prey to everyone, and become a spectacle to all the world. They seek here to murder and to burn us; we are placed at posts and stakes, and our flesh is given as food to the worms.
Thus, my dear child, it is now fulfilled in your dear father and mother. It was indeed prophesied to us beforehand, that this was awaiting us; but not everyone is chosen hereunto, nor expects it; the Lord has chosen us hereunto. Hence, when you have attained your understanding, follow this example of your father and mother.
And, my dear child, this is my request of you, since you are still very little and young; I wrote this when you were but one month old. As I am soon now to offer up my sacrifice, by the help of the Lord, I leave you this, “That you fulfill my request, always uniting with them that fear God; and do not regard the pomp and boasting of the world, nor the great multitude, whose way leads to the abyss of hell, but look at the little flock of Israelites, who have no freedom anywhere, and must always flee from one land to the other, as Abraham did; that you may hereafter obtain your fatherland; for if you seek your salvation, it is easy to perceive which is the way that leads to life, or the way that leads into hell. Above all things, seek the kingdom of heaven and His righteousness; and whatever you need besides shall be added unto you. Matt. 6:33.”
Further, my dear child, I pray you, that wherever you live when you are grown up, and begin to have understanding, you conduct yourself well and honestly, so that no one need have cause to complain of you. And always be faithful, taking good heed not to wrong any one. Learn to carry your hands always uprightly, and see that you like to work, for Paul says, “If any will not work, neither shall he eat.” (2 Thesalonians 3:10). And Peter says, “He that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil.” (1 Peter 3:10).
Hence, my dear Janneken, do not accustom your mouth to filthy talk, nor to ugly words that are not proper, nor to lies; for a liar has no part in the kingdom of heaven; for it is written, “The mouth that lieth slayeth the soul.” Hence beware of this, and run not in the street as other bad children do; rather take up a book, and learn to seek there that which concerns your salvation.
And where you have your home, obey those whose bread you eat. If they speak evil, do you speak well. And learn always to love to be doing something; and do not think yourself too good for any thing, nor exalt yourself, but condescend to the lowly, and always honor the aged wherever you are.
I leave you here; Oh, that it had pleased the Lord, that I might have brought you up; I should so gladly have done my best with respect to it; but it seems that it is not the Lord’s will. And though it had not come thus, and I had remained with you for a time, the Lord could still take me from you, and then, too, you should have to be without me, even as it has now gone with your father and myself, that we could live together but so short a time, when we were so well joined since the Lord had so well mated us, that we would not have forsaken each other for the whole world, and yet we had to leave each other for the Lord’s sake.
So I must also leave you here, my dearest lamb; the Lord that created and made you now takes me from you, it is His holy will. I must now pass through this narrow way which the prophets and martyrs of Christ passed through, and many thousands who put off the mortal clothing; who died here, for Christ, and now they wait under, the altar till their number shall be fulfilled, of which number your dear father is one. And I am now on the point of following him, for I am delivered up to death, as it appears in the eyes of man; but if it were not the will of the Lord (though it seems that I am delivered up to death), He could yet easily; deliver me out of their hands and give me back to, you, my child. Even as the Lord returned to Abraham his son Isaac, so He could still easily do it; He is still the same God that delivered Daniel out of the lion’s, den, and the three young men out of the fiery furnace; He could still easily deliver me out of the hands of man.
Now, my child, if this be not so, I know that He is faithful and faithfully keeps His promise. Thus, my poor orphan child, always be resigned; though I and your father are now taken from you; know that you have a Father in heaven, who will doubtless well provide for you: And when you are old enough, give diligence to learn to read and write, since it is very convenient, and most profitable in this distress, for him that fears God, that you may sometimes read this letter; as also the other letters, which your father left you. Do read them, and remember us both thereby.
Dear Janneken, we have not left you much of this world’s goods, and I have now not much to give you, but what I have I give you. However, we leave you a good example to fear God, which is better than much of the temporal, goods of this world. Only follow us, and you shall have wealth enough; true, you are poor here, but you shall possess much wealth, if you only fear God and shun sin. As the apostle says to the Hebrews, “My son despise not thou the chastening of the Lord; for they that would be without chastisement are bastards, and not sons or heirs” (Hebrews 12:5). Hence, my dear lamb, cease not, because of the cross, to fear God, for a Christian is not made meet except by much tribulation and persecution upon this world, and we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God; for Paul says, “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” (2 Timothy 3:12). And Christ says, “He that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me; As not worthy of me; for the servant is not better than his lord, nor the disciple above his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household.” (Mattew 10:38, 24:25).
If they have persecuted the Lord, they will also persecute us; if they have, hated Him, they will also hate us; and this they do, because they have not known my Father, nor me, says the Almighty Lord. For His kingdom was not of this world; had His kingdom been of this, world, the world would have loved Him; but because His kingdom was not of this, world; therefore the world hated Him.
So it also is now: since our kingdom is not of this world, the world will hate us; but it is better for us to be despised here by the world, than that we should hereafter have to mourn forever. But they that will not taste the bitter here; can hereafter not expect eternal life; for we know that Paul says, that all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall be persecuted and be a prey to everyone.
Thus, my dear child, this way the prophets and apostles and many thousands of other God-fearing persons went before us, for an example unto us; and Christ Himself did not spare Himself for us, but delivered up Himself unto death for our sakes – how then should He not give us all things? Hence, my dearest lamb, seek to follow this way, this I pray you, as much as you value your salvation; for this is the only way which leads to eternal life, yea, there is no other way by which we can be saved than only through Jesus Christ, as Paul says, “Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11); by whose, stripes we are healed, and through whose blood we have been dearly purchased; for we have not been bought with gold or silver, but through His bitter death, and His precious blood which He shed for us.
And we were as erring sheep in this world, but now ate we redeemed through His precious and dear blood, and He has now called us to be heirs and first-fruits of Christ. All those that have died unto sin, and amended their lives, and are thus risen with Christ into newness of life. These no- longer desire to live to themselves, but their life belongs to the Lord; if they live, they live to the Lord; if they die, they, die unto the Lord; they are so resigned that whether they live or die, they belong to the Lord. For, my dear lamb, what shall it avail them that Christ died, who still continue in their sins, and do not turn from this improper life in which they are still sunk as drunkards, murderers, adulterers, idolaters, liars, backbiters, or railers, who cannot please God, whose works proceed only from the devil, all of which the Lord prohibits and says that except they amend their lives, they shall not inherit the kingdom of God? And it shall avail them nothing that He died, if they will not repent. They would sin upon the grace of God, but they say not that He is just. He is indeed merciful, but He is also just; we may not sin upon His grace.
Though we do our best to fear the Lord, and to renounce ourselves according to our ability, yea, though we did all that He commands us, which we are far from doing, we should only do that which is commanded us; we must yet confess that we are unprofitable servants and have not merited anything, but are guilty of eternal death. If He were not merciful, we could not be saved; hence we may not sin upon His grace, but always strive according to our ability to follow that which he commands us.
My dear lamb; we can merit nothing, but must through grace inherit salvation; hence always endeavor to fear God, for the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and he that fears the Lord will do good, and it will be well with him in this world and in that which is to come. And always join those that seek to fear the Lord from the heart, and be not conformed to the world, to do as she does, nor walk in any improper course of life; for the world shall pass away, and all the nations that serve her shall perish with her. Nor have fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them; and be transformed by the renewing of your life, that you may show forth the virtues in which God has called you.
O my dearest lamb, that you might know the truth when you have attained your understanding, and that you might follow your dear father and mother, who went before you; for your dear father demonstrated with his blood that it is the genuine truth, and I also hope to attest the same with my blood, though flesh and blood must remain on the posts and on the stake, well knowing that we shall meet hereafter. Do you also follow us my dear lamb, that you too may come where we shall be, and that we may find one another there, where the Lord shall say, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning.”
Then our joy shall not be taken from us. Though they have separated us here, so that we are taken from you, and must go before you, know that it was the Lord’s will; if it had been His pleasure, He could easily have ordered it otherwise.
Hence, my dear child, be content; He knows what He has determined concerning you, that I must leave you here. Always be honorable and courteous toward all men, and let your modesty be manifest to all men when you have attained to your understanding.
I leave you here among my friends; I hope that my father, and my step-mother, and my brothers, and my sisters will do the best with you as long as they live. Be subject and obedient to them in every thing, so far as it is not contrary to God. I leave you what comes from my mother’s death, namely, thirty guilders and over; I do not know how much it is, since I have been long imprisoned here, and do not know what it has all cost. But I hope that Grietge, my dear sister, who has shown me so much friendship, will do her best to give you what belongs to you. And as to what may come to you from your father, I do not know, since I can learn nothing about his parents, because it is so far from here; if they should inquire after you, my friends may do the best in the matter.
And now, Janneken, my dear lamb, who are yet very little and young, I leave you this letter, together with a gold real [a Spanish coin], which I had with me in prison, and this I leave you for a perpetual adieu, and for a testament; that you may remember me by it, as also by this letter. Read it, when you have understanding, and keep it as long as you live in remembrance of me and of your father, if peradventure you might be edified by it. And I herewith bid you adieu, my dear Janneken Munstdorp, and kiss you heartily, my dear lamb, with a perpetual kiss of peace. Follow me and your father, and be not ashamed to confess us before the world, for we were not ashamed to confess our faith before the world, and this adulterous generation; hence I pray you, that you be not ashamed to confess our faith, since it is the true evangelical faith, an other than which shall never be found.
Let it be your glory, that we did not die for any evil doing, and strive to do likewise, though they should also seek to kill you. And on no account cease to love God above all, for no one can prevent you from fearing God. If you follow that which is good, and seek peace, and ensue it, you shall receive the crown of eternal life; this crown I wish you and the crucified, bleeding, naked, despised, rejected and slain Jesus Christ for your bridegroom.
This I wish you for a perpetual testament, and for a perpetual adieu and farewell my dearest lamb.
Remember thereby your dear father, and me, your dear mother, who have written this with my own hand, for your edification; and always keep this gold real with you, with this letter, for a perpetual testament: I herewith bid you adieu and farewell; I hope to seal this letter with my blood at the stake.
I herewith commend you to the Lord, and to the comforting Word of His grace, and bid you adieu once more. I hope to wait for you; follow me, my dearest child.
Once more, adieu, my dearest upon earth; adieu, and nothing more; adieu, follow me; adieu and farewell.
Written on the 10th of August, A. D. 1573, at Antwerp.
This is the testament which I wrote in prison for my daughter Janneken, whom I bore and gave birth to here in my bonds.
By me your dearest mother, imprisoned for the Lord’s sake.