The Batenburgers and the Davidites – John Horsch

Originally from here.

Menno SimonsTaken from ch 14 of John Horsch’s Menno Simons: His Life, Labors, and Teachings. Shows how Menno Simons judged and discerned true from false prophecy. He was a charismatic Anabaptist leader in the 1500s. Here shows his separation from two mystical “Anabaptist” cults: the Batenburgers and the Davidites. Especially a rebuke to David Joris, the “David Koresh” of the 1500s.

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SIMONS’ RULES FOR SPIRITUAL DISCERNMENT.
FALSE PROPHECY IS MARKED BY…

1. Moral contradictions to the New Testament.

2. Sexual immorality; and all works of the flesh (stealing, violence, lying, greed, idolatry).

3. Personal revelations being exalted above Scripture.

4. Contradiction to the lordship salvation Gospel.

5. Arrogant unwillingness to be judged or tested by the New Testament.

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After the capture of Munster the Batenburgers perpetuated Munsterite principles and practices. They derived their name from a former burgomaster of Steenwijk, John Theodor of Batenburg, the illegitimate son of a Netherlandish nobleman. The two leading principles of John of Leyden, namely that of establishing the kingdom of God through the sword, and of polygamy were enthusiastically defended by Batenburg. He became the head of a band of revolutionists and murderous incendiaries. After a very short career he was captured and executed in 1537. He is generally considered an Anabaptist, although the baptism of adults was not practiced by himself or by his followers.

A man of far greater influence was David Joris, the head of the Davidians or David-Jorists. He was born in 1501 or 1502, probably at Bruges in the Netherlands. His father was a member of the society of the Rederijkers, and young David is believed to have come under their influence. He learned the trade of a glass painter, married and settled down at Delft. In 1524 he became interested in the problem of church reformation through Martin Luther’s writings. Within a few years we find him a zealous Lutheran. On Ascension Day of 1528, when a great procession was held, David Joris accosted the multitude taking part in it, declaring that they erred. He would probably have been killed in consequence, by the mob, had not the burgomaster hastened to his protection. He was arrested and condemned to scourging in the market place and that his tongue should be pierced through with a sharp iron tool, but after an imprisonment of eleven weeks, he was secretly liberated. It is unknown where he sojourned during the following years. On December 5, 1531 we find him at the Hague, witnessing the martyr’s death of Jan Trijpmaker and eight other Anabaptists. They evidently knew him and called to him: “Brother, are you here? Behold here we go out to confess our faith for the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” One of them who two years previous had disputed with him on the point of the divinity of Christ asked him whether he remembered the discussion and receiving an affirmative answer, continued: “Now I am quite free and released of it [viz. my doubt] and believe in Christ, my Saviour.”

Needless to say that this experience made a deep impression on David Joris. Within a few months he became a Melchiorite. Later we find him in the ranks of the Obbenites, although we do not know when and by whom he was baptized. His talents were recognized and he was ordained to the ministry by Obbe Philips. But only a short time David Joris continued a co-laborer of Obbe. After the rise of Batenburg, the fanciful notion of effecting a union between the Obbenites, Melchiorites and Batenburgers was somehow conceived. It is not known who was responsible for this thought, but it is quite clear that David Joris was the leading person in the convention which was consequently held at Bocholt in Westphalia in August of the year 1536. Neither Obbe Philips nor Menno Simons and probably none of the Obbenites, came to this meeting. (1) Batenburg was not present in person but was represented by a number of his followers. The Munsterite doctrines of polygamy and the kingdom of God were condemned by the Melchiorites who were present. David Joris proposed a compromise. The Batenburger idea of the kingdom of God was not wrong, he held, but the time to establish this kingdom had not yet come; and those of the Batenburgers who were worthy should be baptized. It is supposed that at least some of the Batenburgers who were present accepted these decisions of the enthusiastic David Joris. When their leader, Batenburg, was informed of this compromise, his wrath against Joris who had dared to dictate to him, knew no bounds. He threatened to take his life, because “by his pretended union he made the minds of the people uncertain and consequently undecided to take up weapons to establish the kingdom of God; he was an Absalom who sought to win the people for himself by flattery,” etc. The Melchiorites, on the other hand, asserted that David in the last instance advocated the same principles as Batenburg, but was more shrewd in hiding his real intentions; and his undue zeal for union had a tendency “rather to support Batenburg’s madness than to weaken it.”

About a half year after the meeting at Bocholt, namely in December 1536, or in January of the following year, David Joris had some strange experiences which he believed to be visions from God calling him to be a prophet and the head of the kingdom of God on earth which was to be established. These “visions” were of an offensive nature morally. The Melchiorites, it will be remembered, held that certain practices of the state churches which were contrary to Scripture, may be observed for the sake of the persecution. David Joris went a big step further. From the supposed revelations through the said visions, and from the words of Paul, Romans 14:20: “All things are indeed pure” (having reference to eating and drinking) and from certain other Scripture verses, he concluded that “the inner man” is not affected by the sin which “the flesh” may commit, and is not responsible for it. [Note: this is the same false doctrine communicated by demons to the antinomian Gnostics of the first century!] Hence to a Christian all things are pure, to sin is impossible and the gross works of the flesh are not unlawful. Although David Joris held that sin is not sin to the Christian, he nevertheless insisted that all sin must be publicly confessed, not only once, but the confession of offensive sin must be repeated until the transgressor does no longer feel a sense of shame, for sin of which he is yet ashamed, said David, is not yet taken away by repentance. He taught that his own writings which were literally inspired, and not the Holy Scriptures, are the highest revelation of God. The first and second Covenant were imperfect, he asserted, Christ Himself had not brought the world the full truth. The true kingdom of God did not exist previous to David Joris who was called of the Lord to establish it and be its spiritual king. The wicked would perish and those who accepted the message of the prophet were to constitute the kingdom. [Note: very similar to Joseph Smith and the Mormons.]

The exact date when David Joris became an advocate of these new, strange doctrines is not known. Clearly he was not in harmony with Obbenite teaching when he had the visions spoken of above; even before this, in the meeting at Bocholt his attitude was irreconcilable with the position taken by the Obbenites. He was excommunicated by them, as is clear from his own testimony as well as from Menno Simons’ writings. (2) The excommunication must have taken place before Menno’s Meditation on the Twenty-fifth Psalm was written. The date of this book is toward the end of 1536 or early in the following year. The denunciations of the “false prophets” and their teachings, as found in this book are obviously directed primarily against David Joris. (Compare the pertinent quotations on p. 156). Referring to the new doctrines of Joris’ spiritual kingship Menno says: “Save use from the deceit of the devil who sets forth the opinion that there should be another king according to the spirit, beside Jesus Christ, Thy beloved Son, who alone is the King of righteousness and peace. ” (3) Obviously this sentence does not refer to John of Leyden who had lost his life in the attempt to set up a kingdom, but Menno realized that David Joris followed in the footsteps of the former king of Munster. The context shows that the doctrines denounced by Menno were not dead issues when he wrote this book. [Note: cp. to David Koresh and the Branch Davidians.]

The chapter “To the Corrupt Sects” in Menno’s Foundation, of 1539, is directed principally against the Davidians. Menno addresses the sect of David Joris as follows:

“I desire now to come to you who through the false prophets have been so sadly seduced from the true way of Jesus Christ so that the last error has become worse than the first (Matt. 27-64) For with you it has come to this that, as I understand from your own writings, through your pious appearance, a literal application of [certain] Scriptures and your spirit of error, you would justify the abominable works of the flesh which are clearly contrary to the law of nature, contrary to all prophets, contrary to Jesus Christ and His holy apostles, O my beloved, how far have ye strayed from the house of Israel and from the vineyard of the Lord.

“Say my beloved, where is there in all the books of the New Testament, in all the teaching of Jesus Christ, one letter by which ye may prove or support one of your articles, be it your doctrine concerning king or sword, polygamy or kingdom [of God], be it stealing, murder, or uproar, (4) be it deception, (5) devilish confession, (6) or to abandon natural shame, etc, which blasphemous, unnatural heresy and diabolic deception, I know well, was formerly accepted by some as good. Whether they yet hold such opinions I do not know, for I know not more than two who are the fathers of your corrupt sect, with whom I have at some previous time had one or two discussions, hoping to win their souls, which however was not realized, although they were with God’s Word quite overcome in their points. But to what avail? Your own deceptive appearance must count for more with you, than the express, plain Gospel of Jesus Christ which He has scaled with His own blood. Further I know by reputation, but not face to face, two of your number who are the princes and heads of such errors and sadly seduce some of the ignorant people to a faith and life at which a true Christian must be astounded and terrified.

“I tell you in Christ Jesus’ name that no sanctity will avail if we do not abide by the word of the Lord. – Faith must be conformable unto the Gospel. Whoever loves Christ, will keep His Word. – He came to testify of the truth and all the children of the truth will hear His voice (John 18:37). If now ye are children of the truth, hear Christ’s voice who with His clear unmistakable Word has cursed and condemned your whole endeavor. O how well can the very arch-enemy cover himself with the semblance of a holy life. I tell you of a truth that there avails no holy life except that which is in conformity to the doctrine and the life of Christ. The holiness which does not conform to His doctrine and holy life is no holiness, but indeed an abomination before God.

“My beloved, ye know well that not a tittle could be changed in all the law of Moses until the new Lawgiver came who was promised by Moses and the prophets, Jesus Christ. If now the literal law which was given through the servant and sealed with the blood of calves and goats had such authority and strength, how much more authoritative and unchangeable is the law of Jesus Christ which is free, spiritual, eternal, given through the Son and sealed by His blood!

They were all false prophets who taught anything contrary to the law of Moses, for they were commanded not to take away from or add to his word, but that which he commanded them they should keep and be guided by it (Deut. 12). So also today those who would teach us something contrary to the teaching which we have been taught and received of Jesus Christ and His holy apostles, are false prophets, may they have ever so holy a semblance. [Note: the New Testament is the rule for judging true from false prophecy.]

“Since then your ears are itching for the lies and ye do not regard the plain teachings of Jesus Christ, but stop His blessed lips and will not hear those who would lead you to the true pastures of Israel, therefore God has smitten you with a mad, blind spirit, that ye stray from one evil doctrine to another, from one false prophet to another, and so miserably leave the true foundation which can never move nor give way, which is Jesus Christ. – For any and all those who have taught and prophesied new things contrary to the teachings of Christ, have been found false and liars in their teachings and prophecies.

“I entreat you that you regard not any one’s supposed sanctity; there avails no sanctity outside of God’s Word. – I tell you again of a truth that neither life nor power will avail, if ye have not the Word and Spirit of Jesus [Christ]. If ye have Christ’s Spirit, ye must be conformed to His teaching, for His teaching is not changed to another intent, and if your spirit differs from the Word of Christ, know of a surety that it is the spirit of Antichrist, and that ye are those from which Christ Jesus and His holy apostles have so earnestly warned us, as said above.

“With this I pray you from a pitying, burning heart, through the mercy of God. Whoever ye may be, that ye may at last have the deceptive blindness removed from your eyes, confess your sad error, seek those who may break to you the bread of life, hold Jesus Christ to be the only elect, precious corner stone laid in the foundation of Zion upon whom alone we must build. Seek alone His pure, true, plain truth, submit yourselves to His holy Gospel, that the eternal truth and the clear teaching of the Scripture may no more for your sakes be blasphemed by this blind world, and that ye may not suffer as thieves and murderers or as evil doers, but that ye may suffer as Christians and thus bear the cross of Christ to His praise and glory and obtain the crown of glory which is given all who live and suffer according to His divine blessed will. With this I would before God and all the world be innocent of your blood and condemnation. Be earnestly warned and awake and realize your danger.”

(7) That this chapter was addressed to David Joris and his followers does not admit of any doubt. Joris fully understood and realized it. The arrogant enthusiast, after reading it, wrote to Menno Simons a letter as follows:

“Gird on your sword, o Menno Simons, tie it to your side and strengthen your hand, arm yourself with an armor, breastplate, helmet, shield, and with the strongest Scriptural weapons; stand up as a man and defend yourself, for I shall attack you, yet not as an enemy but as your best friend on earth. It is as I say, give attention!

“Can you fight? Have you seen a battle? This is merely a beginning, a sort of prelude, that I may not surprise you, but make you attentive, pliable, and meek for your own good, that you may listen to my words and understand the truth with proper discernment.

“Who has advised you, Menno, to step forth so proudly against the Lord, that you extol yourself above all? Say, dear man, what spirit or witness advices you to teach? Who has sent you? Answer me, if you are one of the angels, one sent of God.

“Since you are uncertain in this matter and are learned in the Scriptures only, you shall be put to shame. – If you do not believe me and do not consent to be taught the truth as a little child, you shall regret it.

“Defend yourself now as a man. If you can, make me a liar and put my word at naught. I have experienced so much praise and ignominy that I am beyond shame, just as Zerubbabel [who was called to build the second temple] should be.

“I shall show you that you do not know God’s Word, although you fully believe that you have it; nor do you know what is truth and wisdom, except according to the letter. – Therefore forsake your own understanding and believe the eternal truth in the Spirit which judges all things rightly.

“If you seek the praise and glory of God alone and not your own, forsake your own shame. To save your soul be not ashamed to confess to your erring understanding, your childishness and your stupid opinions. Be not offended by my letter but if you love understanding, rejoice in the Spirit who reveals to me according to the word of his promise.

“I know your spirit but you know not my spirit; how then can you judge? But I know your thoughts that they are vain and unfounded and it can not be otherwise, because you have not died to self. If this is not true, count me a liar but God would not have it, for I am His servant.” [Note: the angry, mean spirit, defensiveness, and ungodly, violent character of David Joris’ words; also, note the appeal for non-judgmentalism…exactly what all false prophets do when they feel cornered by a Biblical saint pointing out their errors.]

In the revision of the Foundation, written probably in 1554, Menno is even more outspoken, if possible, in his denunciations of the “corrupt sects.” Here he says:

“Is it not a grievous delusion that ye suffer yourselves to be so wretchedly bewitched by such worthless men and so lamentably misled from one unclean sect into another; first Munsterite, then of Batenburg, now Davidian, and thus from Beelzebub to Lucifer and from Belial to Behemoth, ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 3:7), suffering yourselves to be led about by every wind of false doctrine. You choose out a way for yourselves, as do all the priests and monks, and do not follow Christ.

“Did not Paul say: ‘But though we or an angel from Heaven preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed’ (Galatians 1:8)? And that your prophets with their king, kingdom, plurality of wives, sword, etc., do not agree with Paul’s and the apostles’ doctrine and Gospel, ye must confess and admit; whence it forcibly follows that they with their doctrine and cause are cursed and anathematized.

“Say, my beloved, what do you do with the clear Word and testimony of the Almighty Father, which He himself has testified of His Son, and said: This is my beloved Son; hear ye Him. Notice well, Him shall ye hear, but ye violate His Spirit, Word and example, ye follow and hear those who with their spirit, doctrine and conduct are from the bottomless pit, yea manifestly antichrists and false prophets.

“Say, ye deceived children, where is there a syllable in the doctrine of Christ and the apostles (according to whose spirit doctrine, conduct and example all Scripture must be understood) by which ye can prove and establish one of your erring articles?

“If you would appeal to the literal understanding and conduct of Moses and the prophets, then must ye also become Jews, accept circumcision, literally possess the land of Canaan, again set up the Jewish kingdom, build the city and the temple, offer sacrifices and institute worship according to the law and confess that Christ the promised Saviour has not yet come nor changed that which was literal and figurative into the new spiritual, abiding substance.

“Ye miserable erring ones, observe. I have said above that the kingdom of Christ is not of this visible, tangible, perishing world, but that it is an eternal, spiritual abiding kingdom. – Here shamefacedness, propriety and chastity are taught and followed, and not unchastity, infamy and uncleanness. I think you understand well what I mean. In short, here are taught the Spirit, word, will, command, prohibition, ordinance, usage and example of Christ, to which all Scripture points us; and not the opinion of the false prophets, high sounding words, enchanting appearances, boastings, dreams, visions, lying wonders, against which the Spirit of God and the Scriptures everywhere warn and counsel us.

“O ye apostate children, hear the Word of God and accept it; for your way is in darkness and your path leads to death. – Munster and Amsterdam may well be unto you an eternal warning and example.

“How many innocent hearts have they deceived! How many poor souls have they seduced! What great shame have they brought upon the profession of God’s Word! What coarse abominations have some of them committed under a pious appearance! How great cause of innocent blood have they given the poor, blind magistrates who, alas, have no great understanding of the Holy Word.

“I think it is time you should see and learn to know your lying, faithless and seducive prophets; they are the foxes which spoil the vineyard of the Lord. They are the thieves and murderers of your souls, false prophets who forsake the Lord that bought them and have directed you poor erring sheep to their own lying visions, dreams and the opinions of their heart, and contrary to all Scripture have led you to a false and loose foundation.

“How like unto those you have become of whom Eusebius writes that they expounded the prophets according to the desires of their heart, denied Paul and the New Testament and carried about with them a book of which they boasted that it fell as a present for them from Heaven.

“So it is in your instance, O ye mad ones (forgive me, for it is the truth that I write). The prophets you read according to Jewish understanding, the doctrine of Christ and the apostles, you say, is all fulfilled, and pretend that there is now another dispensation, etc., and you are not aware that you thereby forsake the Son of God, deny all Scripture, comfort yourselves with mere lies, just as did disobedient Israel in their time.

“But that they deceive you to the belief that the doctrine of the apostles was imperfect and that they now teach you that which is perfect, this is a deception above all deceptions,” etc. (64 seq.; I:94 seq.).

Joris won many adherents in the Netherlands; over fifty were executed in 1538 and 1539 at Delft. Not a few of them confessed to adultery and polygamy. They had been taught that God would not permit them to be put to death; or if He permitted it, they would at once be raised again to life for a testimony that David was the man sent of God. Hence the deluded people were zealous to confess their faith. In consequence of such experiences David was led to modify his teachings in certain particulars. Until the great change came for which they waited it was now held unwise and unnecessary to confess the faith before the world; it was right to conform in outward appearance to the religious forms and practices of the ruling churches. Just as it is impossible, said one of the leaders among the Davidites, to serve the Lord with the body only, if the heart is not in it, so also it is impossible to blaspheme or deny the truth, if the heart is not in it. Hence for a Davidian it was not sin to take part in idolatry and anti-Scriptural religious forms. (8) In consequence of this policy the Davidians had no martyrs in later years. Not only were they willing to carry out all the religious forms prescribed by the state in which they sojourned, but it became the fashion among them to deny their religious views when suspicion was raised [against] them. And why not, if a denial that does not come from the heart, will not count?

It is probable, although not altogether certain, that David Joris in the first years after he received his supposed call to be a prophet, defended the baptism of adults. Later he declared that he was not sent to baptize, for “where the perfect power of faith and love has come, the ceremonies of the New Testament, called sacraments, may certainly be omitted without sin.” The Davidians defended the practice of infant baptism against the Mennonites (as will be pointed out). They are generally classed with the Anabaptists, but, while in the first years of their existence they, as already said, may have practiced the baptism of adults, they were not Anabaptists in their later period. It has been held that the most vital characteristic of the Anabaptists was not the practice of believers’ baptism, but the thought of establishing the kingdom of God on earth. But to the great Anabaptist sects, viz., the Swiss Brethren, Huterites and Mennonites, as well as to the Denckians the idea of a literal kingdom which was to be identical with the church was entirely foreign; they believed that Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, and that the state churches’ insistance that all citizens must be identified with the church was quite unScriptural. It has also been said that the belief in special divine revelations, as found among the Davidians, marks them as Anabaptists. But the great Anabaptist denominations of the Reformation times were the most radical advocates of the principle that the Holy Scripture alone is the authority in matters of faith; they condemned the new prophecy of “the corrupt sects.” [Mennonites were cessationists?]

One of the principal representatives of Davidianism was Nicolaus Blesdijk, David’s son-in-law. In 1546 this man had a debate with Menno Simons, Dirk Philips and other Mennonite leaders in a country place near Lübeck. In this discussion the principal point of dispute was that of infant baptism. Blesdijk asserted that the acceptance of infant baptism could not be condemned, for Christ does not forbid it and there is no proof that the apostles did not baptize infants; and even if infant baptism is a misuse, it does not follow that it must be abolished. Menno Simons, on the other hand, showed that a Christian must be guided by God’s Word and that there is no Scriptural ground for infant baptism. It should be said that the Davidians were difficult to deal with in debate, since they put forth the plea that they were misunderstood, however that they observed infant baptism does not permit of dispute. The records of this debate are lost, but Blesdijk gives an account of it in two or three of his tracts.

In his Foundation, of 1539, Menno Simons enlarges upon his position on the Davidians’ view of the permissibility of infant baptism. He says:

“I well know that there are many idle talkers who, although they realize that not infants but believers should be baptized, nevertheless talk in this manner: Now, what shall water avail us? We have once been baptized [in infancy] in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; had we only the new life, it would suffice us. – O how lightly is the word of the Lord set at naught, just as if the eternal Wisdom and Truth had bidden or done anything without purpose. No, my beloved, no! He has commanded it and He would also have it observed! For His council, says the prophet, shall stand and all His will be done. Do not ask the Lord, why He has commanded it, for it is His blessed will. Who are you that you should contradict God? Hear Him and be obedient to Him.

“This is the very least of all the commandments which He has given. It is a much greater commandment to love your enemies, to do good to those who do evil to you, to pray in spirit and in truth for those who persecute you, to subjugate the flesh under God’s Word, to tread under your feet all pride, covetousness, impurity, hate, envy and intemperance, to serve your neighbor with gold, silver, with house and possessions, with your hard labor, with council and deed, with life and death, nay to be free from all evil desire, unbecoming words and evil works, to love God and His righteousness, will and commandments with all your heart, and to bear the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ with a joyous heart. Can the commandment of baptism be compared with any of these? I say again, it is the least of all the commandments that were given us, for it is not more than a little outward work, namely a handful of water. Now he who has obtained the most important matter, namely the inward, will nevermore say, “What can water avail me,” but will readily with a thankful and obedient heart hear and fulfil the words of God. But as long as he has not the inward work, he may well say, what can water avail me!

We do not enquire after or seek for water, but with great diligence we seek only the obedience to Jesus Christ who has given us the commandment. If we believe in Him, that His word is the truth (John 17:17), that His commandment is life eternal (John 12:50) that He is the true teacher who came from Heaven (John 3:2), to bring to us all the truth, then we must certainly obey His voice or we shall never enter into the kingdom of Heaven. For, I repeat, where there is no obedience, there is no faith. – If ye have any knowledge of Jesus Christ, any love for His holy Word, do not further treat Him and His Word with contempt, saying, if we had the life it should be sufficient. I tell you of a truth, there is no life that will help you, as long as you resist the Lord in the very least. He would have obedience and not sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22), He would have the heart and the whole man. What does He care for your works and life as long as He does not see your obedient, subjected will?”

(9) In the year 1546 Blesdijk also wrote A Christian Vindication and due Refutation of the False, Unfounded Judgment, Slander and Abuse found in a letter written by Menno Symonse against a few Lovers and Followers of the true Righteousness of Christ, Because they are not so Superstitious as he is in Regard to Observing Certain Ceremonies. Very Useful and Serviceable…to all who Love the Middle Way. Menno Simons had written a letter to the Melchiorites in Amsterdam in which he insisted on keeping the commandments of Christ instead of partaking in the religious forms of the Catholic state church. While it is clear that this letter is not addressed to Davidians, Blesdijk may have decided to reply to it for the good reason that it refuted the opinions which the Davidians shared with the Melchiorites. Blesdijk asserts in this book that participation in Roman Catholic worship (including, it may be observed, the adoration of the host and prayer to the saints) was not idolatry, since these things may be observed in appearance only; he ignored the fact that the Davidians took part in the worship of the state church from hypocritical motives, desiring to give out the impression that they actually worshiped the host. The believers, says Blesdijk, have the liberty to observe any religious ceremonies and to have their infants baptized; a true Christian need not observe any ceremonies. Menno errs, he says further, in the opinion that a Christian should not put on gold and costly array and that one should bear persecution for the sake of baptism or other religious forms. Besides this little work Blesdijk wrote two other important tracts to defend certain Davidians’ teachings against the Mennonites.

David Joris wrote a surprisingly large number of tracts and books; his principal works is ‘t Wonderboek. (The complete title is: “The Book of Wonder in Which that Which was Hidden from the Beginning of the World is Revealed. – Highly to be Praised Must be the One who was Sent as an Ambassador in the Name of the Lord”). His style is obscure and confused. The attempts to exhonorate him and his followers from the accusation of immoral teachings and vile practices have signally failed. Nevertheless he was a religious character. Obviously some honest men were deceived by his pretense of piety, his winning personality and his smooth words.

The story of Joris’ later life reads like a novel. On April 1, 1544, an exceedingly well dressed man of very dignified appearance, named John of Bruges came with a few companions to Basel in Switzerland. He represented himself as a Zwinglian fugitive, told a pitiful story of the persecution he had endured in the Netherlands and asked permission to settle with his family in the city. He made the best impression on all who met him, and the Council was quite willing to grant his request. On August 25, 1544, he came with his numerous family and servants to the city. They took the oath of citizenship, thereby uniting formally with the Zwinglian state church. John of Bruges bought a house in the city and a farm in the neighborhood. He had an abundance of means and lived with his family in the style of a nobleman. His dress was that of a man of the world; his body was at times decked with jewels. Withal he gave alms, was diligent in church attendance and honored the ministers of the city. His children married into prominent families. He lived at Basel eleven years, an acceptable member of the state church. On August 25, 1556 he died and in acknowledgement of his uncommon piety was buried in St. Leonard’s Church.

This man was none other than David Joris. He went to Basel because in the North where his writings were circulated and where he had many followers there was not the opportunity to practice deception and lead a double life to the same extent as in Switzerland. Every precaution was taken to hide his identity; the members of his family and household were enjoined to observe strict silence regarding their former history, but nevertheless it seems almost incredible that he succeeded so well in deceiving the city. He made no attempt whatever to spread his doctrine in that vicinity. While he wrote a great many tracts and books at Basel, they were written in the language of the lower countries. His dupes in those countries kept sending their money and treasures to the prophet. Only three years after his death his identity was made known to the authorities at Basel, in consequence of the apostasy of his own son-in-law Blesdijk. This zealous advocate of Davidianism came to his senses during the life time of Joris. His eyes were opened, so he confessed, through the terrible increase of vice among the Davidians. But only indirectly was his renunciation of his former belief the cause of the discovery that John of Bruges was David Joris.

On March 13, 1559 all the male relatives and friends of John of Bruges were arraigned before the magistrates of Basel. They staunchly asserted that John of Bruges never went by another name nor taught anything but orthodox Zwinglianism. But when a search of the houses was made and a great number of Davidian books and letters were found, they saw that further denial would be useless, and made a confession in the affirmative. Every one of them (about 30) abjured the Davidian faith. David Joris was condemned to the fire as a heretic by the Zwinglian authorities of Basel. His body was exhumed and, together with his books, burned at the stake on May 13, 1559. Menno Simons’ attitude toward David Joris is clearly set forth in his reply (10) to Joris’ letter which has been extensively quoted above. Menno writes:

“I am ready for a spiritual, not for a carnal combat. Hitherto I have stood without fear in the conflict with my adversaries, and have had the victory because I have fought not with my own, but with divine weapons, namely with the doctrine of the Gospel which shall never be overcome, may there be ever so many opponents to attack it. Through continued use I have become accustomed to this armor and this battle, as to the daily food; the doctrine of the Gospel I use for an armor, breast-plate, apparel and cloak.

“But you, David, have laid aside and rejected this armor long ago, and in its place you set your new imaginations, philosophy, rhetorical tricks and other deceptions of the devil; rightly therefore are you considered an antichrist, a man of sin and son of perdition, a false prophet, murderer of souls, deceiver and falsifier of the divine doctrines and commandments of Christ. I am surprised and amazed over the presumptuousness and impudence of this your letter seeing that you, after you have for many years advocated and spread so many blasphemous doctrines in your former books, are yet without any compunction of conscience but continue to set forth the same folly. That you dare to place your own dreams, visions, imaginations and tricks above the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, through whom the prophetical and apostolical doctrine was given, is an evidence of devilish pride and antichristian presumption.

And further you, a wretched man, a shadow and ashes, dare to put your own work above the work of Jesus Christ, and your own doctrine above the doctrine of the apostles. And you and your followers in shameful hypocrisy, observe the practices and ceremonies of Papists, Lutherans or Zwinglians. You follow the usages of any of these. And you advise, yea, practice the polygamy of the Jews. Your own life and that of your followers is not less corrupt and stained than your doctrine. By your attire and usages you indicate worldly pride and wantonness.

‘You, presumptuously, usurp for yourself the honor which belongs to the Son of God alone; you declare Christ’s doctrine as invalid and your own as perfect and abiding; you place your own antichristian calling and office over the office of Christ and the apostles; under the pretext of humility you aim at and promote diabolical obstinacy; under the cloak of perfection, chastity and other virtues, you seek vices and abominations, adultery and lasciviousness, and in the manner of the Lutherans [speaking of antinomian Lutherans] and Papists you pervert the Christian life unto a quite worldly life – therefore I fear that God (who gives His honor to none other) will give you a reward and end, such as John of Leyden, the Munsterite king and others before him who have taken for themselves the honor which is due to the Son of God, have had.

“Now, do not write to me further; save your paper and ink. I shall henceforth not read any writing that may come from you, except it be evident that you reject and condemn your ungodly doctrine and give to the doctrine of Christ the honor that is due it.”


(1) The thought of such a meeting was worthy of the enthusiast David Joris.

(2) In a tract reprinted by A. M. Cramer, Nederlandsch Archief voor Kerkelijke Geschiedenis, 1846, pp. 308-313, David Joris says, “What, if they have the name and another [Joris] whom they have excluded, has the reality in truth.”

(3) Meditation on the Twenty-fifth Psalm, 1539, fol. D2b.

(4) Principles of the adherents of Batenburg.

(5) The Davidians deceived the world by their attendance of the worship of the ruling churches, having their infants baptized, etc., to show that they were at peace with the state church.

(6) David Joris held, as said [above], that all sin must be publicly confessed and the confession must be repeated until the guilty one is no longer ashamed of his sin.

(7) Dat Fundament des Christelycken leers, 1539, fol. R3b – S1a. In the first edition of the book Of the True Christian Faith and its Power (probably, 1541) Menno speaks of the Davidiani as one of the “corrupt churches or sects which are found in all evil, ungodly and carnal fruits or works” (Van dat rechte Christen Gheloouue ende zijn cracht, fol. O7a).

(8) “To dissimulate with the world” is Menno’s expression for this attitude of the Davidians. He placed participation in the worship of the state church for the sake of avoiding persecution in the same category.

(9) Dat Fundament des Christelycken leers, 1539, fol. F4b seq. In the revision Menno has given this section the title, “To the Despisers of Baptism.”

(10) Printed in Nederlandsch Archief voor K. Geschiedenis, vol. 5, 1845, pp. 73-77;Zeitschr. f. hist. Theol., 1863, pp. 1431-46.

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About John Boruff

John Boruff is the founder of WesleyGospel.com, a husband, father, and sometimes an open air preacher. He graduated from UNC Pembroke in 2008 with a B.A. in Philosophy and Religion and views himself as a Baptistic Pentecostal. As a Christian, he feels connected with all members of the body of Christ, but can identify the most with churches like the Assemblies of God and the Vineyard. In 2015, he released "The Gospel of Jesus Christ," which is meant to be a Bible study for open air preaching. For his other writings, search articles on this site or see the E-Books section.
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