This article was written by A. Van den Brock in April 1950 and was found in a copy of Progress, the monthly magazine of Romford Congregational Church
The history of Holland starts about 100 years before Christ when the Bataves lived in some parts of Holland; they worshipped gods of wood and stone and they believed in selectivity and the history books tell us that babies of just over one year old were thrown into the water to see whether the gods approved of them or not. If they emerged fighting for their breath they were acceptable but if they were too weak to do this they were abandoned.
Then there were the Friesians who made their children go through flames for the same reasons and it was to them that the first Missionaries went out.
It was in the year 496 that Irish Missionaries made their first converts in the South of Holland. King Clovis who ruled under the higher authority of a Frankish Monarch was baptised. But it was not until the year 640 that the first Missionary known by name arrived in Holland. He too came from England and his name was Willebrord. He was a Roman Catholic and later went to Rome to be consecrated by Sergius the First as the First Bishop of the Friesians.
Slowly the Gospel became established but it was to be at first the Gospel in fetters as dictated by the Roman Popes and Emperors, and so we move though the Middle Ages, the times of the Crusades, the time of the mighty power of the Roman Catholic Church, the time also of the inward corruptness and ungodliness of that Church, the time leading up to the reformation.
It is in this time that the Dutch reformed Church was born. About this period historians say, "The blood of the martyrs was the seed of the Church." Yes, there were martyrs in Holland at that time, hundreds and thousands. It started in 1517 shortly after Martin Luther had nailed his 95 points of disagreement with the Pope on to the door of the church of Wittenberg in Germany.
Luther had found the Bible which had been kept from the people for so long. He had found in its pages the Gospel of forgiveness and sins through the redeeming death of Christ and through the spreading of that message Christ reformed His Church.
In Holland, too, ordinary people started to read portions of the Bible which were handed from hand to hand because the orders of the King were that anybody who was found in possession of the Bible or any part thereof was to be burned or drowned. Perhaps it is partly through this time and through these martyrs death that the love and honour for the Bible established itself so firmly in the Dutch people.
It is at this time, too, that the Church was being assembled together. The more people that were murdered for their open confession of faith in Christ as their Saviour, and for their refusal to pay to the Church a ransom in money to obtain forgiveness of sins the more new confessors there came. It is almost unbelievable that thousands of people were prepared to die for their faith and actually did die rather than obey the then ruling Roman Catholic Church but such are the facts, and can you wonder that when we look back to these times we feel a sacred duty to stand unflinchingly guard over the treasures of faith and confession for which these people died in their thousands.
I will not trouble you with the stories of pain and tribulation which are so vividly given to us by the historians; let me read to you just one confession of faith spoken by one of these martyrs upon hearing the word "guilty" pronounced. His body was tied to a fifteen feet high pyre to be burnt to death. This is what he said: "I have sinned and as a sinner I am worthy of eternal death, but Jesus Christ is my Lord and Saviour and through Him only I trust in faith that I shall be an inheritance of eternal life."
It is in these days of persecution and terror that the Church confesses its faith. It is, therefore, that this confession is so sacred to the Church in Holland. Written behind hedges and in empty barns where the Church used to assemble it is not only the confession of the church but also its defence. The King had decreed that anybody who subscribed to the new doctrine as apart from the Doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church could not be a good citizen of the land.
Under the leadership of Guido de Bres (who died a martyr's death in 1567), the Dutch confession of faith was drawn up and sent to the King to prove the Church did not pursue any of the bad things it had been charged with by the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church.
It would take too long to give you even a short sketch of these articles in which every aspect of the faith of the Church has been put down and explained.
Please remember that these 37 articles were written by the Church as a defence against false accusations and not as so often argues as a ways and means to rule the faith of others or to dictate its dogmas or principles to others.
Reading the confession as such, one cannot help subscribing to it and one must come to the conviction that the Spirit of God moved in the hearts and minds of the people who compiled it.
Another important work was done during these terrible years. The Church adopted as a Catechism the doctrines as set out at Heidelberg by two German followers of the reformation Gaspar Oleveanus and Zacharias Ursinus and a certain Peter Datheen translated the catechism into Dutch.
It is still valued by almost all denominations in the present church in Holland and most of the ministers base their evening sermon on its doctrines.
It is divided into fifty-two chapters and the idea is to deal with one chapter each Sunday and so keep all the doctrines fresh and living in the hearts and minds of all members of the church.
Can you imagine all this and more happening in a church of which the members are open to be seized any time and to be called to justice with the terrible consequences of death by torture?
Yet this is true and it would be terrible for another 80 years. In 1568, under the leadership of William the Silent, the church agrees to help in the resistance against the tyranny of the King of Spain and during the following 80 years the church has known its saddest days and its finest days in its fight for freedom to read the Bible and to confess its faith in Christ.
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon