The Twentieth Epistle of
Written in prison
PETER, your brother and a prisoner for Christ as a witness to his name; unto all who are convicted of the same faith with us together, in Hessen, Svabia, and Moravia; my beloved brethren in the Lord.
The Blessing of heaven wherein dwelleth the fullness of the Father’s Grace be always with you. May it descend upon you like the evening rain, making fruitful and green the verdure of your rightousness to praise the glory of the invisible and only wise God, our Father in Heaven. (Rom. 16)
Dear Brethren, because I have you all in my heart while ye are all partakers of the grace of responsibility for the gospel together with me in my bonds, I am constrained by my responsibility for it to write, though at no length, in the sure confidence that ye will do as I say, for ye have already inclined yourselves and dedicated yourselves to walk the way of the Lord and to keep his ordinances ever before you. Surely this is God’s will for you and wherefore he hath given His spirit ye be directed, led and moved by the same spirit, walking before him of one mind and one intention, the same which the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord, showed forth even in his whole life, wherein he had communion with the Father and the Father with him. That is he liveth in the Father and the Father in him. So should ye manifest that ye have communion with him, that he liveth in you and you in Him, and even as the Son doeth nothing but what he seeth the Father do or whatever the Father doeth in him, so also ye should do nothing of yourselves save what ye have seen him do or whatsoever he accomplished or bringeth about in you; then you will be evermore one in Him and neither quarrels, displeasure, murmuring, mistrust or anything of the sort can be raised up among you. Then the way to you, and access to you will be barred, fastened and closed against Satan so that he can neither touch you or harm you any more. (Phil .1, 7)
Therefore remember the calling to which ye were elected and accepted, and which has been entrusted to you, how precious, costly and without price this treasure is whereby ye have become a royal priesthood and a Godly inheritance. Therefore rightly secure and protect your treasure for it is your life, your well-being and your assurance. Be not weary in serving one another in love and joy and the love and peace of God will be with you, for the more zeal ye show in his work the more he draweth near to you. And the more ye serve him the more he giveth you of his grace. Therefore he that desireth to be rich in God let him not spare himself in serving, putting away the disinclination of the flesh and sloth from himself for such a work, then a joyful and free-willing spirit will be given to him which doeth all with joy, and wherein the more he serves the greater the joy in serving becomes. They that are compelled by the same are multiplied in their powers, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not be faint. (1 Pet.2) (GaI.6) (2 Tes.3, 13) (Isaiah 40, 31)
Beloved brethren. I write not as if ye do not know, for ye know it well, seeing ye are children of the testament of the knowledge of God. I write thus to stir the pure mind of Christ in you, to make you the more zealous to show your knowledge forth whereby your light shineth more and more and maketh you not to be frightened by reason of the revilings, murmurings and blasphemies of those falsely called brothers, but rather to be provoked to greater zeal, more love, more hearty obedience, and a greater honouring of one another, but most of all of your Servants through whom God giveth his grace to be imparted among you.
For this is His especial commandment to you, but because it pleaseth God and is your approved service to Him, the Devil screameth and rageth furiously in his servants so much the more to make you sluggish, laggardly and without trust towards your servants, or suspicious of them so that ye receive the Word of them with unwillingness and it bear no fruit in you, then he can scatter you and draw you into his kingdom.
Dear brethren, where could he attack you more violently and more speedily harm you than thus? How can a house be more quickly thrown down and broken up then by digging up, hewing down or taking away the pillars whereon it stands or which support it? So with the Servants (of the Church). They are called the pillars of the House of God, as Paul says "...who were regarded as pillars" and the pious Judith said "Ye elders in whose hands are the lives of the people". Therefore he (the devil) seeketh the right place and saith "the true shepherd giveth his life for the sheep but your servants flee from you in time of tribulation, therefore they are hirelings and not shepherds". And more, "they eat alone and of the rest to you they teach community but they themselves do not keep it". With such and similar words they seek to disquiet and deceive you, and to blunt your consciences from good doing, but woe to whosoever heedeth them!
My dear children. I write to you, not while ye lack in zeal for me, or as if ye had become remiss in these things. I know ye have joy in so doing, but in case one among you should be made weak by their blasphemous talk I entreat you, beloved brethren, to see the rigour (behold the severity) of God in them, but for you who until now have remained in the good, his grace. When has one of this sort who grudgeth the servants their portion appointed by the church ever stood unbroken in the truth, or where hath there been a people who regarded their Servants lightly or who did not render them their just honour given and ordained by God, that hath pleased Him? Have they not all fallen into vanity and in part become like unto the world? But ye that have kept them in honour and reverence have remained steadfast in the truth and shown that the Lord is with you unto this very day. Why so? Because ye have kept his ordinances and treasured his gifts most highly, which thing the Lord hath seen and hath given you therefore the best gifts (ye being worthy of such over others). But from those others who held them lightly, or as a small thing, he hath taken them away for they were not worthy. For whosoever esteemeth the gifts and presents of God shall be given more and more, but as for those that esteem them lightly, from them they taken away as from the unworthy. (Rom.11, 22)
So then beloved brethren, as ye have begun, so continue, and let not yourselves be brought to confusion by reason of the unspiritual babbling. Honour your servants and the Lord will be with you at all times even as he hath been until now; He will multiply the leaves of your godliness.
Perchance if there are some among you who stumble because of their lack of understanding or because of their simplicity then ye shall report the truth unto them and they will give ear to the truth and follow, but where this is not so ye shall know that their hearts are stopped, and signs and wonders would help them as little as they did Pharaoh till they come to a like end. (Ex.9) (Rom.9)
Therefore they must be let go the same way as him. Ye, however, shall do the works of love unto your own not the less, giving most to those who have been appointed to go before you and let no man hinder you, for it is the will of God. Consider the word of the Lord spoken by the Holy Spirit. "This … is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel and for a sign that shall be spoken against." (Luke 2, 34)
Is it not so, dear brethren, whosoever speaketh against the ordinance of God speaketh against God himself? This is the ordinance of God that ‘ye shall hold your servants in double honour rendering the more honour to them for their works sake." (Tim.5, 17) Consider, would God have appointed any task or ministry without at the same time appointing a wage and exemption so that the office can be administered and carried out? If he hath so enacted with other offices, how much the more then with the calling to proclaim the gospel? Therefore Paul also saith, "if we sow unto you spiritual things is it a great thing if we reap your carnal things?" And again, "Who feedeth a flock and eateth not of the milk of the flock? Say I these things as a man, or saith not the law the same also? ‘Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn.’ Doth God take care for the oxen or saith he it all together for our sake?" (1 Cor.9) (Duto.25)
Then, dear brethren, see to it that ye give such service not only out of love but because ye owe it and because it is your duty. Though the blasphemer may say "They enjoy the milk of the herd when they eat with the people together, but it doth not follow that they should ever receive of the best." Beloved brethren, I know well how ye are disposed, but that ye can the better encounter such blasphemy I will show you the truth of these matters, for mark that just as we owe it to you to defend you who are written in our hearts, so ye too are debtors of ours to protect us as being written in your hearts and known well.
In this same confidence that everywhere I am known well by all, and this ye do know, that I seek only your salvation and whatsoever is well pleasing to God for you, then I am able to write the more boldly.
That the opinion of the adversary mentioned above hath not the argument Paul showeth most gloriously when he saith, "Know ye not that they which minister about the holy things live of the things of the temple, and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar. Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel." Hath not God ordained that the servants of the temple and altar should receive of the best parts of the sacrifice, not receiving the same as those who brought the sacrifice? The fats of the sacrifice were for the Lord, but after the Lord’s portion the best was for the priests and the remainder was taken to the people who ate it among themselves. So also with tithes and first-fruits of their crops and flocks. To this belongeth the word of the Lord, "Ye shall not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn." That is to say ye shall not withhold or take away the portion of the servants. From these words it is plain that the Servants have rights and dues in temporal things which must be heeded. As Paul testifieth, "We have power to be maintained even as Peter and the other apostles of the Lord" for the sake of the liberty of the gospel, which power they used, and rightly, as is said more especially of Peter. Then because of love, but not only out of love but as your bounden duty and service, and because of the commandment, ye shall render them double honour, love and obedience and ministration in temporal things as did Simon the tanner unto Peter.
Who will say that Peter ate nothing especially prepared for him, or that he ate not alone? That Paul did not use this right in some places in Achaia, which they keep throwing up, hath a number of reasons which he himself showeth. It does not follow that he did not use it in other lands. Yea, I tell you he not only used this power and accepted (what was offered) in other places, and the churches not only ministered to him in temporal things when he was in their midst but in his absence they served him also, sending to him when he was afar, so zealous were they in their care for him, He accepted this service calling it "for what is it wherein ye were inferior to other churches except it be that I myself was not a burden to you?"
Thus we see dear brethren, if we so desire, that though the Servants refused to use their liberty and right, yet this is no honour to the church, rather it is a dishonouring when they so forebear, for they leave the commandment and ordinance of the Lord. Then, beloved brethren, although your Servants are gladly ready to rightly put this right away ye should never permit it, and rightly, for it is your honour before God and His holy angels. I know well that they are ready to abandon not only their rights but their lives also for the sake of your salvation, then dear brethren, how much more should you be ready to uphold them in their rights seeing that it is your own well-being (to do so) and not let these blasphemers cause you to err. Be diligent to communicate this one to another, so that your well doing be done with joy and zest and be verily good deeds and not hypocrisy. My beloved brethren, I write out of the special love I bear for you for the Lord’s sake. I know that the dear brothers are shy in speaking of such and would rather do without any thing than speak so that no one could vainly imagine that they seek their own interest.
Now, because I am a prisoner for the Lord and know not whether I shall see you again in this body, or you see me, and because I am absent from you and no man could presume to think I do this for my sake or for the sake of any flesh. I have desired to do my service in this matter and show you what is seemly for you. I tell you also that ye owe it to your servants whom ye have recognized and still do recognize as faithful, to defend them from blasphemy and opposition. As I have already said, they for their part are ready to risk not only their rights but also their lives for they seek nothing save your salvation, and they neither desire or want to do anything which is not given them by the church, and you cannot do so much for them that you still do not owe them more, for, as Paul telleth Philemon, ye owe them yourselves.
This, beloved brethren, if ye heed it aright will make you the more diligent to fulfill and accomplish such service, then the love of one to the other will grow and increase, peace will flourish and rightousness will go before you. Apart from this I deem it not necessary to write much for ye do not lack for godly admonition - the Lord be praised. Only regard this, dear brethren, as from the Lord, and receive it worthily, even as the Lord hath commanded "These words ... shall be in thine heart ... thou shalt talk of them when thou sittest down in thine house and when thou walkest by the way and when thou liest down and when thou riseth up." Therefore David saith also "Blessed is the man whose delight is in the law of the Lord and in His law doth he meditate day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water that bringeth forth his fruit in season, and his leaf shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper, for the Lord his God will be with him to prepare all his ways."
As I have said above, my dear children, be ye diligent to serve one another faithfully to the betterment of the whole body of Christ, preferring each other, each giving an example of love and godly obedience to the others.
Honour one another, but chiefly your servants and in so doing ye honour the Lord, for it is his ordinance and commandment and an imprint of the truth. Whosoever murmureth and striveth against it opposeth the truth, therefore be not moved in your service by the adversary of the falsely called brother who hath entered by some other way, seeking to spy out our liberty in Christ and rob you of the same. Take heed then that ye flinch not, or obey them or become subject to them so that the truth of God may endure through you.
Beloved brethren, I have been constrained and urged to write because of the many and persistent and varied babblings of the adversary, and the many blasphemies raised up against the truth, quite unjustifiably, to subvert the simple and confuse them in their consciences. Many will seek to excuse their folly with this (excuse of being led astray by others) whereby proceedeth many quarrels and heated words, but above all standeth the Lord of all and casteth such away and bringeth their folly to the light of day. Therefore ye are now warned not to follow or copy such in their folly of heart lest with them ye suffer hurt. This I write for your sakes only, for I have seen how other churches (Volker) who have abandoned their zeal have wasted away and been destroyed. For if ye abandon zeal, becoming instead idle, slothful, and laggardly, then Satan after he hath gained entry among you will quickly attack you elsewhere and more strongly, not desisting till he hath done unto you as he hath to others. Whosoever transgresses or neglects one commandment of the Lord well soon become unfaithful in all.
For this reason I regard myself as obligated to do this and warn you because I see the intentions of Satan so that I may protect you from harm and (be innocent of) your blood. Thus saith the Lord, "If the watchman see the sword come and blow not the trumpet and the people be not warned, if the sword come and take away any persons from among them, they are taken away in their iniquity but their blood will I require at the watchman’s hand. But if he blow upon the trumpet and warn the people and they will not be warned he shall be guiltless of their blood, it shall be upon their own heads, for the watchman hath given the warning but they heeded not."
Though I write thus, dear brethren, I expect better things of you than that ye will not heed the warning, for as I have said, I have confidence in you to do as I say.
Secondly, I was moved to write by the persistence of Kasper who admonished me repeatedly and earnestly to do so, and I could not refuse him. He said it is fit and proper for a Servant to step in the breach, and pacify any sort of quarrel which is raised up with Godly testimony. For more murmurings, discontents, quarrels and blasphemies could hardly happen then for this cause which is God’s ordinance and commandment. Therefore he did not regard it as right that we should be silent and not show the ordinances of God to the light of day and uphold them. When I had not wanted to write he was dissatisfied with me and with the other servants as well when they did not diligently proclaim the same to the church. At first (he said) he approved and understood that the servants should put away (their right) because of love and the offense. But now God hath shown him that it is a glorious ordinance and an expressed commandment and he saith that they should not put it away but hold firmly to it so that God’s ordinance be not belittled and his anger brought upon the whole church.
Further, dear brethren, follow after whatsoever things are honest and of a good report, and whatsoever things are an adornment before the Lord. In all things give love the chief place among you that each may be to the other an incitement to improvement. Be zealous that ye have a blameless conscience on the day of the future coming of the Lord from Heaven. The God of all grace who is mighty to strengthen you and to keep you blameless, who can make you to abound exceedingly in the works of Christ at all times, may he rear you as a plant and herb of his kind to His praise for ever and for ever. Amen. (Phil.4)
Now concerning ourselves, dear brethren, ye should know that we wait patiently upon the Lord as to what he intendeth and what he will do with us. For the works which he showeth forth in and unto the faithful are marvelous. For a moment he is wrathful with them, then of himself he is reconciled with them, and showeth his loving-kindness unto them. He saith unto the raging sea "be still" and the proud waves are abased. To the dark places of bondage he saith "bring forth my sons and daughters to the light."
Dear brethren, ye know that he hath given us unto the will of tyrants for them to deal with us according to their humor so that it might be revealed whether our hearts love God or not. They took us and threw us into a dark hole. They dealt hardly with us, causing us to hunger and thirst but the Lord saw them and showed us that men do not live by bread alone but by every word that cometh out of the mouth of God that we should the more perfectly understand it. But when the time had come he said "It is enough, ease the heavy bonds from my children." As soon as he did this so it came to pass. Now our imprisonment hath been so eased for our flesh that I have so a hearty anxiety as if I were walking upon nails. Everything about us is so favorable and friendly that I fear lest it should be the daily allurements wherewith Photiphers wife sought to allure Joseph, to make us forget the work of the Lord; so considering their friendship till the same becomes a snare. We desire the and hope only to leave them, as Joseph did, with the garment (of this body) and with him to fly from them unstained rather than give way to them in the least.
Now I tell you, dear brethren, I have so feared this liberty that I would not have accepted it but I feared that in refusing it I should have been deprived of your visits too.
So now, the Lord be praised, I have neither imprisonment nor am I robbed of you, but we want in patience to await the will of the Lord, and His help, which he will give as he hath until now, performing His councils according to His will and His glory. However, it is our prayer to you, dear brethren, that you do not forget us, but remember us before the Lord in your prayers, which we know ye do, for we also will not forget you.
Dear brethren, we want then to bid you farewell in the Lord, commending you to God the King of all eternity; he will keep you in His truth, faithful and devout to the end and protect you from the deceits of the enemy to the glory of His Holy Name. Be greeted faithfully from me, Peter your brother, now a prisoner for the Lord, be greeted in holy Godly love. Greet also Hansen Leonharten and all your Servants and Elders, greet also my sister in marriage with all who have love towards us in Christ Jesus.
Also greet all beloved brothers and sisters who serve in the school and kitchen, with all the saints. My fellow-prisoner in Christ, Kasper, greets also all of you by name. Greet one another with the kiss of love. Dear brethren, the grace and blessing of God be with you at all times and keep you united in the mind of Christ until eternity. My heart, soul, and spirit be one with you at all times, and the Spirit of Christ be with us all eternally. AMEN.
Peter Ridemann, your brother in the Lord.
Written at Walksdorf in Hessen in Prison.
Last updated 09/10/2005