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1569 A.D.:  Dirk Willems Loves His Enemy

 

 

  Unlike most accounts on this site this is not a large scale miracle, yet it is an account somewhat famous among the Anabaptists (Mennonite, Amish, etc.) because it portrays an undeniable example of a man loving his enemies even more than himself.

  In the winter cold of 1569, in Holland, a young Dutch man named Dirk Willems was captured and held as a religious prisoner in a palatial residence which had been made into a jail.  His crime involved being baptized as an adult, even though he had been baptized as an infant. He had come to hold the religious belief that a man had to be born again.  Dirk had assisted others in their own adult baptisms as well, and when captured, admitted to this.

  The Spanish ruled Holland at this time, and the Spanish were Catholic.  It was anathema to them that a second baptism should be required just because a child can have almost no knowledge of it's baptism.  But Protestants of various types were asking how that could be counted as an act of Christian self volition.  You had not made a choice, they argued. You were only an infant, so how could you choose?  

  Young Dirk had taken some pretty hard knocks during his interrogations by the Catholics, so in desperation he seized upon a plan for escaping his make-shift royal prison.  He knotted some bedsheets together and then lowered himself over the balcony until he could safely drop down.  An oldie but a goodie!  He let go and landed at the base of the palace walls, then ran towards the iced covered palace moat, reached the ice, and began to cross it at a point where it was almost a pond.  But he had been seen, and was closely pursued.  Especially by one man, a Thief Catcher, who was the closest of the pursuers which Dirk was trying to out distance.

  Dirk had been in jail a while, and had lost considerable weight.  Though the ice sheet was not thick, he picked his way successfully across the cracking ice to the land on the other side. 

  His pursuer, the professional Thief Catcher, wasn't so lucky.  Part way across he fell through the ice into the frozen water.  The man struggled in the deadly cold water, and Dirk, hearing the commotion, looked back and saw him. The man's slower fellows stood on the bank and looked on, afraid that if they tried to rescued the fellow, they might fall in as well

  For Dirk, who was home free now, it was probably an agonizing decision.  He could have his freedom by letting the man die.  He could try to save the man, and maybe drown with him, or possibly save him but be taken prisoner again.  He decided he didn't want the life of anyone, even an enemy, on his conscience. Even his enemies were made by God, and had souls intended for Jesus.  He returned across the ice, managed to reach the struggling Thief Catcher, and some how was able to pull him out of the ice without falling in himself. 

  Once saved, the stronger man grabbed Dirk, but had his own hard decision to make.  However, with the other pursuers shouting at him from the edge of the ice to remember the vows he had made when he took the job, the man who held Dirk decided to return him to captivity.  Dirk had lost his freedom for the last time.

  Soon afterward, Dirk Willems, who would not repent or deny his beliefs, was tied to a stake and surrounded by dry wood.  When time came, the signal was given, and it was lit.  As soldiers watched, the flames encircled Dirks legs and began to cook his flesh.

  Doubly unfortunate, the wind was strong that day, and that kept the flames low to the ground.  His lower legs were burnt ever more badly, but from there on up, the flames only occasionally contacted him.  His death was slow and agonizing, but he remained resolute, simply speaking to God as he struggled with the pain.  Yet he never asked to be rescued.

  Since those who burned him surely must have known the circumstances of his escape and recapture, they felt some pity for him, and some disgust with the slowness of his death.  Finally, a man in charge of this 'execution by fire' could no longer take it, and he ordered one of the other soldiers to end Dirk's life swiftly, out of mercy.  That's how Dirk finally died.

  So, this Dirk Willem made his choice not just for his principals, but Christ's as well.  It cost him his life, and he had known it might.  And when the time came to die, he mustered his courage and endured it's pains without complaint.  He did not hold his life to be more dear than obedience to Jesus's teachings.  And his name, unsullied, has outlasted those of the men who killed him that day.

  We are warned in Revelation to remain firm should we be among those enduring the hard times of the great tribulation.  It is always good to know that other people, ordinary enough people, set their mind on remaining obedient and lost their earthly life without finding their pain too much to bear.  Martyrs seem to always be given enough strength to bear what they need to.  History seems to teach that Jesus is never far from those who die for His teachings. 

  We follow a very great God, and serve a very great King, His Son Jesus.  A King who allows His subjects to be tested, sometimes severely, sometimes even to death, but never are they abandoned.       

   

    

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