45. The Plight of the `Abandoned Christians' in the Ommeland of Groningen: a Minister Addresses his former Flock at Appingedam, August 1586

May the grace and peace of God the Father be multiplied among you through Christ His Son and our Redeemer.

Honourable and very dear brethren in the Lord, besides offering my friendly services and wishing you every blessing, I could not forbear to write you as since I have learned from certain brethren from Appingedam that there are still some pious and devout Christians, members of our congregation, left in Appingedam, who have not only abstained from the Roman idolatry but also abstained from other false teaching and sects. Holding fast to the true Christian religion and the pure teaching of the Gospel, wherefore they daily meet together in certain houses in order to comfort and strengthen one another by reading the Word of the Lord and by good exhortations. This has brought more joy to my heart than I can properly express. I thank the good God and the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, whom it has pleased to preserve from the scattered church there a seed, from which in His time more fruits and increase can, through His grace, come. 

I heartily rejoice that in the midst of the wolves you conduct yourselves so piously, boldly confessing Christ the Saviour. From this I can also perceive that my small labours, which after my infirmity I performed among you during my ministry, have not been in vain. I also have heard that many of the [church] members from Appingedam and elsewhere, who heard the Word among us reside in East Friesland in different places where they also conduct themselves as pious Christians. Now my dear and chosen ones I wish nothing more than that you will continue steadfast in this good zeal and piety to that end, as I confidently trust, that the Lord our God and heavenly Father shall complete in you all this good work, which He has begun in you, by the power of His Holy Spirit, at the Day when our Saviour Jesus Christ will appear. Daily I also pray to the Lord for this. For although we may be physically quite far removed from one another, yet my heart and spirit are with you all. Go forward bravely, my dear brothers, in the work of the Lord, and do not be dismayed or moved by tyranny, threats, sects or strange spirits, which will hold you somewhat from the truth (I do not say separate from), but continue in prayer and do not neglect your assemblies; especially come together with one another, as often as can find any opportunity to exhort, comfort and strengthen one another. And if there are any with some taste for God's Word and some spark of knowledge, be not slow to speak to them and spare no trouble in order to bring them to the flock. And if you are assailed by the enemies of the Gospel, bravely take up arms against them, and with sound doctrine and valiant spirit oppose their error and the Lord shall give the victory. Therefore you should practice by diligently reading the holy biblical scriptures. It will also do no harm if, in the midst of your assemblies, Bullinger's Decades were read for there the chief tenets of the Christian doctrine are well grounded.2 In this way you strengthen one another in the faith and, besides, oppose the sects more ably. 

And since I have heard that Eleprich, Abel and Zusewint, our dear brothers, are very zealous in this holy work and very diligently sustain these meetings, so I would beseech them for Christ's sake (and any others there may be) that they would watch well over the whole flock so that this same work may fruitfully increase in approval. And if there be any, who may have been turned away from the truth by the sects, that they will endeavour to bring them to the right [doctrine], if this is possible. If not, let me know who they are and tell me the matters in which they are ensnared. I hope to write them and, from God's Word, to exhort them. 

Furthermore, my most dear brethren, be not dismayed that you must groan under this cross, that your trade and prosperity in fleshly terms go not so well, that you must live amidst the enemy with many perils and difficulties, that daily you must meet many who hate and mock you, as if everything be tried by fire. But keep in mind the wonderful reward, which after this conflict you will enjoy in Christ through grace, and the promises made to the victors in the gospel, in Matthew 10, Mark 8 [vv. 34-38], Luke 9 [vv. 23-27], Luke 22 and, chiefly in John's Revelation, where the Lord says, 'He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life' and what follows in Revelation 3. 

Herewith, my dear and chosen ones, be commended to the Lord and may that for which I pray come about through His grace, that He may confirm you all with His Spirit and complete you in all good works to do His will and correct your acts as is pleasing to Him through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 

Give my greetings to all the brothers and sisters and all those known to the Lord, especially your dear wife. My wife sends hearty greetings to you all. Write me again about all your circumstances. Dated, Delft 11 August 1586 (new style). Your humble brother Johannes Milius, minister of the Lord's Gospel in Delft.

[Postscript] I would, dear brethren, have written you long ago, but I did not know that any of our [members] remained in Appingedam. But yesterday Gerrit Smit (who is now a captain with a vessel in the Eems in De Scholbalg or Lauwers) visited me in Delft and the same first brought news. Therefore I also could not but write immediately. 

The superscription was: The honourable and pious Eleprich Glasmaker, inhabitant of Appingedam, my good and gracious friend.

Source: De kroniek van Abel Eppens tho Equart, ed. J.A. Feith and H. Brugmans, II, (Amsterdam, 1911) 351-54; I am obliged to Wiebe Bergsma who summarised the letter in De wereld volgens Abel Eppens: een Ommelander boer uit de zestiende eeuw (Groningen, 1988) 149-50 for assistance with the translation. 

1 In August 1578 the States of the Ommelanden adopted the 'religious peace' advocated by William of Orange. As a result the Reformed Protestants in this part of the province of Groningen could worship publicly. Their freedom was, however, shortlived for in 1580 the royalist and Catholic party recovered control of the province, which it maintained until Maurice and William Louis captured the town of Groningen in 1594. The minister Johannes Mylius had been a minister at Appingedam in the Ommelanden in September 1578, but he cannot have stayed long for he was serving as minister at Breda when that town too fell to the royalist army in July 1581. 
2 Heinrich Bullinger's Decades, which first appeared in a Dutch translation in 1567, went through seven editions by 1622. Congregations lacking qualified ministers sometimes had sermons read to them from the Decades, see A.J.van 't Hooft, De theologie van Heinrich Bullinger in betrekking tot de Nederlandsche reformatie (Amsterdam, 1888), ch. 2. Though the classis of Bruges declared a certain Johannes IJserman unfit to serve as minister, it did permit him to 'read from Bullinger's Decades' to his congregation, H.Q. Janssen, De kerkhervorming in Vlaanderen, II (Arnhem, 1865) 174. See also Acta der provinciale en particuliere synoden gehouden in de noordelijke Nederlanden ... 1572-1620, ed. J. Reitsma and S.J. van Veen IV (Groningen, 1895) 39.