“And now, my good mother, I beg you to show yourself as a virtuous woman in your afflictions, and bear patiently and joyfully this trial that God has sent you, knowing that it is the good will of God against which no one can resist, even if he would. Live the rest of your days in the fear of God, remembering me, and how I served my God till death.”
Among the Reformation martyrs was the author of the Belgic Confession, Guido de Brès. He served as a pastor in present-day Belgium during the Spanish Inquisition. Eventually he was captured by the authorities and spent a long time languishing in a dirty, sewage-filled dungeon in Valenciennes. Nevertheless, as he lived out his last days somehow he was able to find the strength and resources to write several letters. One of them was a letter to his mother. I’m pleased to be able to share this letter with you, as it gives a personal glimpse of this brother and father in the faith.
Last Letter from Guido De Brès to His Mother
The grace and mercy of God the Father, and the love of his Son our Lord Jesus Christ, be for your eternal salvation.
My dear and beloved mother, when I consider what a sorrow my imprisonment is to you, and how hard to bear because of the enormous maternal love you have always had for me, I cannot keep my heart from becoming sad nor from greatly trembling within me. And certainly I can say from experience that it is a hard parting that takes place between a mother and her child. But the parting would be much harder if a man would leave his God and give up eternal life. I am somewhat relieved of my sadness when I think of my calling and the cause of the Son of God which I have upheld before men.
It seems to me that I hear Jesus Christ, my Master, speaking with a loud voice and saying to me, “Whoever shall love his father and his mother more than me, he is not worthy to be one of mine” (Matthew 10). Then he says to me, “Truly I say to you that every one who has given up home, or parents, or brothers or children for the kingdom of God shall receive much more in this age, and in the age to come eternal life” (Matthew 19). Such words cause me to put all other things aside, and my heart leaps for joy. When I think of the certainty and truth of the one who has spoken thus, I can say with St. Paul, “I esteem all things as dung and consider them for loss, for the excellence of the knowledge of my Lord Jesus Christ.”
You too, my beloved, must rise above your sorrows with the consideration of the good will of God, who wants to bring glory to himself through this poor, fragile body. Restrain your grief remembering how it has pleased God to call me to his service against all human expectation. Recall how, before I was born, you were going through Mons to hear a certain Italian Jesuit, who was preaching in the streets. You said then, praying to God, “My God, if it could be that you could give me such a child, even maybe the child that I am carrying, to preach your Word.” You said it and God heard your prayer. Because he is rich and merciful, and because he can do all things more abundantly than we dare to ask, he gave you more than you asked for. You asked that the child you were carrying could be like that Jesuit. He became a Jesuit alright – but not of the new sect that people call “Jesuit.” In order to make me a true imitator of Jesus, the Son of God, I was called to the holy ministry, not to preach the doctrines of men, but the pure and simple Word of Jesus and his Apostles. This I have done up to the present with a good and pure conscience, seeking nothing else than the salvation of men, not my own glory nor my own profit.
Witness the zeal of God which has been in me, accompanied by many crosses, afflictions and sufferings, and not for a small number of days, but for many years. To all these things you ought to return for your comfort, and you should consider yourself fortunate that God has given you the honour to have carried, nurtured, and reared one of his servants – who will receive the crown and glory of martyrdom. Then it is not for you to object, if my God wants to now receive me as a pleasant-smelling sacrifice and strengthen the elect by my death.
I myself am joyful and I pray that you will join with me, knowing that all will be for my great good and salvation. I submit myself to what it pleases him to do to me, knowing that he will not do anything that is not just and fair. He is my God and Father, having only good will toward me and the power to deliver me, if he finds it good to do so. Therefore, I rest in that knowledge. If he has found it pleasing to take me from this poor life now, I shall be taken in the prime of life, having laboured diligently and sowed in the Church of his Son. He has already allowed me to see the fruit of my labours and trials, having blessed and made my ministry so fruitful that the Church will feel the effects for many years after my death. I am happy to see that which my God has permitted me to see. There is yet much good seed that I sowed, which is still in the ground, but after being watered with my blood, it will grow and manifest itself amazingly. What more then should I now desire, since the will of my God has been done, and I am ready to reap in heaven in glory and incorruption the fruit of that which I have sowed on earth with tears in my eyes? And I hope that the many people which I have won to my Lord Jesus through the Gospel will be my glory and my crown in the last day.
I am going along the way where all the prophets passed, and the Apostles, even the only Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, and thousands of martyrs who shed their blood for the witness of the Gospel. It is the voice of Christ who says, “Enter by the narrow way, for I say unto you that many will try to enter and will not be able.” It is the narrow way of which Ezra speaks, which is not wide, and under which is a great river and a fire which devours those who stumble and fall. This road leads to a city filled with blessings, where the children of God have want of nothing. What should it profit me if I should travel with the world along the broad and spacious way, only to fall at the end into ruin and eternal perdition. I know well that if I should renounce my good Lord Jesus and return in my impurity and pollution to this life, the world would embrace me and respect my person. But it would not be pleasing to God to renounce my Saviour, to put idols in his place, and put profane things in the place of his precious blood. I have served him for more than twenty years, and never has he failed me in anything, showing to me always a love which surpasses the understanding of men. Beyond this great benefit, he gave himself to the inglorious death on the cross in order to give me eternal life. What then? Should I leave the living to find refuge among the dead? Should I give up heaven for the earth? Eternal things for temporal? Abandon the true life for bodily death?
He who alone is my strength and my rock will keep me from it, and himself will be my shield and defense and the strength of my life in my weakness and infirmity. I can say with St. Peter, when Christ asked him after many of his disciples had abandoned him, “And you,” he said, “do you not also wish to go as the others?” Peter replied, “Lord, to whom should we go? For with you are the words of eternal life.” The Lord my God will not permit me to leave with the world the fountains of living water, in order to dig cisterns which do not hold any water, as God so rightly said by his prophet Jeremiah of his people Israel. I believe with conviction that I am not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul. I can say with Moses that I would rather be afflicted with the people of God, than to enjoy for a time the pleasures of sin. I would rather esteem the favour of Christ as greater riches than all the treasures of the world, for I look to the reward, and trust that the power of faith will not fail me in my need. For by it I have already overcome the world and all my adversaries. The Apostle has showed me how the faithful ones of the Old Testament, having the same faith, surmounted their afflictions. He speaks of some as being regarded as drums to be beaten, who refused to be delivered, hoping for a better resurrection, and of others who were mocked and battered. They were arrested and put in prison. They were stoned. They were sawn in two. They were tempted. They were put to death with the sword. They wandered about dressed in the skins of sheep and goats. They were destitute, afflicted, and tormented, of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered about in the deserts, in mountains, and dens and caverns of the earth. All these holy people have overcome the world through their faith at death, and stand as victors though people killed them.