Guido de Brès: A Faithful Pastor and Witness of Christ
Guido de Brès, the primary author of the Belgic Confession (1561), was born in Mons, Belgium in 1522. He came from a family of glass painters and he himself was skilled in this trade. He was the fourth child among five siblings.
Guido was introduced to the Reformation doctrines as a teenager. However, it was William Tyndale's martyrdom that had a great impact on him leading him to the serious study of the Scriptures.
"[I]t was through this study that God led him to true faith in Jesus Christ." At that time, persecution of the Protestants in the Lowlands was becoming intense. So after his conversion, Guido escaped the persecution, went to London, and joined a congregation of French-speaking citizens of the Lowlands there. "Here Guido studied for the ministry and listened to the powerful preaching of the great reformers [John] á Lasco and Martin Bucer" (Herman Hanko, "Portraits of Faithful Saints," 217).
Guido did not remain in London for long. In 1552 he returned to his beloved land and started his ministry as an evangelist and itinerant preacher. His life was almost in constant danger since then. He served the Lord's people in the cities of Lille and Ghent, where he wrote a tract "Le Baton de la Foi" (The Staff of the Faith) passionately defending the Reformed faith.
In one of his travels, he met John Calvin in Frankfurt, Germany. From there he was persuaded to come to Geneva, where he spent three years learning further the Reformed faith and mastering the Biblical languages under Calvin and Beza. He also married Catherine Ramon during this time. The Lord had given them children as well.
Guido continued to minister to the saints in the cities of Lille, Antwerp, Mons, and Doornik upon returning to the Lowlands. Since his life was in constant danger he was forced to disguise himself under the pseudonym of Jerome. His ministry base was in Doornik, where he served the congregation of 'the Church of the Palms.'
In Doornik "the meetings of the congregation were always held in secret and at night, with small groups of not more than twelve attending at one time. In spite of the problems which the congregation faced, de Brès organized the church with elders and deacons and faithfully administered the sacraments" ("Portraits of Faithful Saints, " 218).
After his ministry in Doornik was discovered by the Roman Catholic authorities and "the people of the church were forced to flee or be killed...Guido concentrated his work for several years...in northern France, perhaps some of the quietest years of his ministerial career...He worked in Amiens, Mortdidier, Dieppe, and Sedan, building up the congregations and preaching the gospel faithfully" ("Portraits of Faithful Saints," 219).
He ministered later to the congregation in Valenciennes, where the Protestant faith grew and advanced. But because of the troubles caused by the radical elements there, King Philip II was provoked sending an army to lay siege to the city. Although de Bres and his companions escaped at first, he eventually was captured and imprisoned into a dark and damp, rat-infested dungeon by Roman Catholic authorities.
He wrote a tract on the Lord's Supper and letters to his friends, his aged mother, and his wife, in spite of the horror and hunger in prison in Valenciennes. Prior to his martyrdom, he wrote this moving letter to his wife testifying to his deep commitment to God:
My dear and well-beloved wife in our Lord Jesus,
Your grief and anguish are the cause of my writing you this letter. I most earnestly pray you not to be grieved beyond measure . . . . We knew when we married that we might not have many years together, and the Lord has graciously given us seven. If the Lord had wished us to live together longer, he could easily have caused it to be so. But such was not his pleasure. Let his good will be done . . . . Moreover, consider that I have not fallen into the hands of my enemies by chance, but by the providence of God . . . . All these considerations have made my heart glad and peaceful, and I pray you, my dear and faithful companion, to be glad with me, and to thank the good God for what he is doing, for he does nothing but what is altogether good and right . . . . I pray you then to be comforted in the Lord, to commit yourself and your affairs to him, he is the husband of the widow and the father of the fatherless, and he will never leave nor forsake you . . . .
Good-bye, Catherine, my well-beloved! I pray my God to comfort you, and give you resignation to his holy will.
Your faithful husband, Guido de Brès.
"Guido was publicly hanged [on] May 31, 1567, at the age of forty-seven. He was pushed off the ladder while comforting the crowd which had gathered, urging them to faithfulness to the Scriptures. His body was left hanging the rest of the day and buried in a shallow grave where dogs and wild animals dug it up and consumed it" ("Portraits of Faithful Saints," 220).