Letter of William Brackel to the United Societies, February, 1683 #History #Scotland
In February, 1683, William Brackel, a Dutch minister in Leeuwarden, wrote in reply to a letter from the United Societies’ fifth convention. It had taken him four months to reply and it would be a further three months until his letter arrived. Something was wrong with the Society people’s international correspondence across the North Sea … but what was it?
The letter was mainly concerned with encouraging the Society people to continue to adhere to their cause in the face of martyrdoms. However, it opens with a warning that the Societies’ previous letter may have been intercepted, as only a copy had come into his hands.
It then discusses the near capture of the fourth convention in Edinburgh, when an alarm had forced them to disperse and remove out of burgh for safety.
The main news content of the letter was that the Societies’ students at Groningen would be examined and ordained in a very short time frame. However, the Societies did not receive Brackel’s letter until Alexander Gordon of Earlstoun brought it, and a second letter from him, to the ninth convention on 8 May, 1683. The interception and delays in the correspondence between Brackel and the Convention meant that there was no direct communication between them after the arrival of the news that students could be sent to the United Provinces for ordination in the autumn of 1682 and the ordination of James Renwick in May, 1683.
Given the disputes within the Societies over the mission to achieve ordination in the United Provinces, it is possible that some hand, or hands, within the Societies had deliberately kept Brackel and the Convention in the dark about each other. However, there were also clear problems with the coordination of communications in the Societies’ international network. John Nisbet, the Societies’ agent in London, struggled to correspond with Earlstoun in the United Provinces and the reply from the ninth convention to Brackel went undelivered, as Earlstoun was captured with it at the beginning of June.
William Brackel aka. Wilhelmus à Brakel, was an influential Dutch theologian. He was a minister in Leeuwarden between 1673 and late 1683.
Brackel’s letter is as follows:
‘Most loving fathers and brethren in Christ Jesus our glorious King,
It is not only come to my ears that ye wrote, and sent to me a letter of answer, but also a copy of it is [>p72.] come to my hand [via Earlstoun, Hamilton or Renwick?]; but where itself sticks, or by whom intercepted, I know not.’
Renwick had written to Brackel on 5 October, 1682, however, Brackel’s letter appears to refer to the interception of the fifth convention’s ‘An Informatory letter from the United Societies to Mr William Brackel minister in Holland 1682’. (EUL MSS. La.III.350. No. 57.)
‘It rejoiceth my soul greatly to know your affairs both, by the foresaid copy [of the letter from the fifth convention], and also by your letters sent to us; especially the miraculous divine protection of you makes me both greatly to admire and rejoice; who being couragious and busied in your [fourth] convention [in August, 1682], by taking a care of your church-affairs, did see the cruel enemies even threatening death, seeking you, even compassing about the house, stricken with a certain Sodomitish blindness that they could not enter.
How admirable are the works of God! how unsearchable is his deep goodness! truly we find that he hath favour and mercy towards his saints, and perpetual care towards the elect; truly he is a fiery wall about Jerusalem, and his angels compass about those that fear him, and delivers them. He that sits under the covert of the Most High, shall lodge under the shadow of him that is omnipotent. Let praise and glory be, sung to: our Lord, by all who hear these things, both angels and men. It is needful that this experience of the most efficacicus presence of God should strengthen your confidence; that he who delivered you out of the mouth of bear and lion, shall also in the time to come deliver you from all dangers that shall fall in your lot, to the glory of his waited-for divine defence. But if God should suffer this or that man, or even many, to fall into the hands of enemies, or rather that he himself should give them; by this ye shall be taught experience, that that has not fallen out because of the defect of divine protection, but that God has called them out, name by name, for a testimony of himself; yea, although they should seem to die in the eyes of enemies, and their end to be an ignominious affliction, yet they, I say, go away in peace, and are crowned with a joyful crown and immortality. Neither are the martyrs of the church of Scotland killed, that it may be extirpate, but that it may be builded; for the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church: the church was founded by blood, and it grew by blood. The more cruelly Pharaoh oppressed the people of God, the more fertilely they were multiplied. We are very desirous of the coming of the Lord; saying, we wish that salvation may come out of Zion; when the Lord shall turn again the captivity of his people, Jacob shall be glad, and Israel shall rejoice. But let no man cast down his heart, because [<p73.] God is only trying your patience; he is also making our way plain, and a way to himself, to his greater glory in all lands. Would Israel been more happy if he had been delivered out of less oppression in Egypt? Was not his deliverance the more glorious, the heavier the persecution was? Wait therefore for the salvation of the Lord: how great shall his goodness be which he hath laid up for them that fear him, which he hath prepared for those that betake themselves to him, before the sons of men. Shew yourselves men in the time of distress. Let him that is weak in strength, leaning upon his head, say, I am a man of excellent valour. He that hath God near unto him (as is made known to you by many, both public and private experiences) from no man would fear either threatenings, swords or ropes. Learned men, great men, albeit godly, of great name, err in this matter; but God hath chosen these that were fools in the world, as wise; these that were weak, as strong; the ignoble, and those of no esteem, that he might bring to disgrace those who are in honour. In the mean time, let unanimity, love, fervency of mind, gladness in justification remain among you; and out of these, holiness, and a perpetual intercourse os the soul with God. This one thing I exhort you, that every one may teach another; the fathers, mothers, aged and more learned, may teach the little ones, and others who are more ignorant of the way of the Lord, the fundamentals of religion; lest any should perish thro’ lack of knowledge, or lest any should waver in the true faith.
The three students chosen by you to the pastoral office [James Renwick, John Flint and William Boyd] are busy at their studies [in Groningen]; the fourth [John Nisbet] we are waiting for [to come from London]: By God’s grace we hope you shall see them [in] the next year, and hear them preaching.
Since the time that I have known your estate, I have judged it necessary that certain men, endued with the Holy Ghost, piety, authority and years, should be chosen for tha pastoral office, and should be sent unto us, for the space of one or two months, that they might be instructed in the method of forming of preachings, and some other things. Next that they should be examined in a lawful way by some pastor in an ecclesiastic convention, (let not little knowledge deter any man) and in the name of the Lord sent unto his vineyard, and be confirmed in that office by the imposition of hands [i.e., ordination]; and so return to you in such a state of the church. I care not [>p74.] much for the knowledge of tongues, and literal instruction, although in itself, in other circumstances I think much of it; for not by the defect of learning, but of the Spirit and piety, is the church of Scotland brought into so miserable a condition; and I think it is not to be restored by learning, but by the Spirit and piety. I propose thir things to you, that you may seriously consider that thing of so great moment; and that ye may either do or reject that as.ye shall think fit. The Lord be a sun and shield unto you. And, I am,
Your lover, and promoted minister,
Feb. 9th 1683.
William Brackel.’ (Shields, FCD, 71-4.)
The Ninth convention replied on 8 May, 1683, but the letter was intercepted when Earlstoun was taken.
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