Dirk Willems

Posted under The Rectory Bulletin | Church History

Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:29-30)

In the spring of 1596, Dirk Willems was fleeing from prison. He’d knotted rags together to make a makeshift rope and lowered himself down onto the moat of the prison. The temperature was low, and the water was capped with ice, so the prisoner raced off. A “thief-catcher” was in pursuit.

Willems had been imprisoned for his faith. He was an Anabaptist, and so had be been baptised as a believer when a young man. In a Roman Catholic country, this was a rebellious act. It was saying that the Roman Catholic baptism he had received as an infant was invalid. He’d also hosted meetings in his house, where others had followed his path to re-baptism. For this he was imprisoned.

As he ran across the ice, he became aware of the cries of the thief-catcher. Willems was thin, having lost weight in prison, but the pursuer was not. The ice was too thin, and although Willems was slender enough to skit across the top, the other man had fallen through the ice.

Dirk turned back to rescue the man, and pulled him out. Tragically this act of mercy led to him being recaptured and re-imprisoned, this time in a small, barred room on the top of a bell tower. It was from there that he was lead out to serve his sentence. He was burned to death on 16th May 1659 “for an example to others”.

An example he is. One whose love for others drove him to rescue his captor, and save his life. It cost him his own life, but he is remembered as a man full of Christian virtue. Ironically, through dying he ensured his memory lives.

The Prayer of the Guilty

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! (Psalm 51:1–2) - There is a lesson in this for us all. Guilt is only dealt with on your knees.

The Sin against God

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. (Psalm 51:3–4) - A guilty conscience needn’t stay guilty if it leads to repentance and seeking mercy from God.

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