Burning the hand that saved him

I’m going to skip ahead a bit in the Martyrs Mirror to address a story that my Old Order Mennonite cousin told me about a man named Dirck Willems (or Dirk Willemfz if you prefer the old spelling style). I immediately recognized the story as Michelle relayed it to me a few weeks ago, because an the engraving (large version) depicting it appears on the dust cover of my Herald Press version of the Mirror.

The engraving, done by Jan Luyken, confused me, because I didn’t see what one dude pulling another dude out of a hole in the ice had to do with the torture and execution of thousands of my ancestors. Now I know.

According to the Mirror, Willems was a resident of Asperen in Holland and a wanted Anabaptist. The story picks up with his arrest already in progress. Willems is hauling tail across the frozen ice with a cop in hot pursuit. However, the cop steps on a weak piece of ice and falls into the bitter water below. In what is possibly the most selfless act of pure Christianity I’ve ever read, Willems stops running, turns around and pulls the freezing cop from a certain death.

His reward? Slow death at the stake.

The cop wanted to let Willems go, but the “burgomaster” wouldn’t relent. So, Willems was tried, convicted and sentenced to burn.

“… A strong east wind blowing that day, the kindled fire was much driven away from the upper part of his body, as he stood at the stake; in consequence of which this good man suffered a lingering death, insomuch that in the town of Leerdam, towards which the wind was blowing, he was heard to exclaim over seventy times, “O my Lord; my God,” etc., for which cause the judge or bailiff, who was present on horseback, filled with sorrow and regret at the man’s sufferings, wheeled about his horse, turning his back toward the place of execution, and said to the executioner, “Dispatch the man with a quick death.” But how or in what manner the executioner then dealt with this pious witness of Jesus, I have not been able to learn…”

No good deed goes unpunished.


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