The Testimony of Jan de Swarte

In the 16th century a group known as Anabaptists were severely persecuted for their faith.  The account below is taken from “The Bloody Theater or Martyrs Mirror of the Defenseless Christians[1]” which chronicles many of their stories. 


Pardon the old English and the wordiness, this is taken from the book unabridged.  Please note, in the words of Jan’s son Klaes, why they had to die.


Jan de Swarte, a very good-hearted man, of Nipkerke, with his wife and adult children, came to the knowledge of the truth, and united with the church of God. Afterwards he was chosen and ordained a minister of the church, in which ministry he, according to his ability, and in simplicity, so conducted himself (not only in the deaconship, by caring for the poor, but also, according to his gift received from God, in dispensing the Word of the exhortation), that he endeared himself to all that knew him. I Cor. 12:4; II Tim. 2:15.


And as the apostle Paul foretold, that all that will live godly in Jesus Christ shall suffer persecution, so he also met with it, on which account he resided in various towns and villages of Flanders, as in Honschote, Rijssel, Wervick, Meenen, and finally at Halewijn, supporting himself mostly with tapeweaving. With his wages he was very benevolent and liberal to the poor, not only to those of the household of faith, but to all in general (II Cor. 8: 1; Gal. 6:10), by which especially he left behind him a good name, to the praise and glory of God, as also by hospitality, as taught in the Scriptures (Romans 12:13), in which he was not negligent, since it appeared that when he was apprehended, there lodged with him a brother from Doornick, named Perceval van den Berge, a native of Zwevegem, and another, who had come from Honschote, whose name was Jan Maes.


At that time there resided at Halewijn various other God-fearing brethren and sisters, which being greatly envied by N., the priest of the castle, he betrayed them into the hands of the Dean of Ronse, the inquisitor in Flanders, who, on a Saturday night, the 7th of March, 1563, quietly came thither with a great number of servants, from Rijssel, surrounded several houses, entered them, and apprehended the afore-mentioned Jan de Swarte, with Klaesken his wife and four sons, namely, Klaes, Christian, Hans, and Mahieu (who was only about sixteen years old), and also Perceval van den Berge, and Jan Maes, already mentioned. Besides these he also apprehended one Pieter the shoemaker, with Jacomijntgen his wife, which latter did not remain steadfast. Also, one Heyndrick Aerts the hatter, with Janneken Cabiljaus his wife, and another sister, Kalleken Steens, the wife of a brother whose name was Augustijn.


When Jan de Swarte was apprehended, his two younger sons were not present, but came in the meantime. When they came to the house the neighbors warned them, that those who apprehended their father and mother were in the house. The one said to the other, “Do not let us flee, but let us die with father and mother.” In the meantime Jan de Swarte was led out of the house a prisoner, and seeing his sons, he said to them, “Children, do you want to go along to the New Jerusalem?” They replied, “Yes, father;” and were thus led captive with them.


The inquisitor brought them all prisoners to Rijssel, and there had them very closely confined in the castle. Jan was put into a hole by himself, which was called the”Paradise,” and was so small that he could neither stand upright in it, nor lie down full length.


It happened one day that divers brethren and sisters, prompted by love and compassion, had come from without the city, and were standing over against the castle, calling to the prisoners over the fortification, for their consolation, that among them there was one brother named Herman, who being noticed by one of the beadles of the town, who came out secretly, was also apprehended.


After an imprisonment of ten days, the inquisitor delivered these prisoners into the hands of the secular authorities, who first took out Jan de Swarte with his son Klaes, Pieter, the shoemaker, Hendrick Aerts, the hatter, Percival van den Berg, and Jan Maes, all six of whom, because they valiantly and steadfastly adhered to the divine truth, they sentenced to death, and took them in a wagon to the marketplace, where stood the scaffold, provided with earth and stakes. There they were taken up one after another, and two and two fastened to a stake.


As they were going to death, the clock struck. John asked what time it was. He was told that it was four o’clock. He consoled himself with this, saying, “At five o’clock we hope to be in our lodging or resting place.” His son Klaes, said, “We have to die for the reason that we believe that Jesus Christ, the Son of the eternal God, is from heaven and not of the earth.”


Pieter was gagged, to prevent him from speaking. When they stood at the stakes, wood and straw were placed around them, to which fire was then set, and they were thus burnt alive to ashes.


A few days afterwards also Klaesken, the wife of Jan de Swarte, with her three sons, and Herman, because they adhered immovably to the love of God, were all five sentenced to death by the authorities, and also burned alive to ashes, persevering unto the end as valiant witnesses of Christ.


[1] van Braght, T.J., pp. 664-665, The Bloody Theater or Martyrs Mirror of the Defenseless Christians, 5th edition, 1950. Scottdale, Pennsylvania, Waterloo, Ontario: Herald Press. (Original work published 1660, translated by Sohm, J.F. 1886)







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