“From prison, before his death, he wrote touching letters to his wife. On 22 May 1567 he even held a disputation with a Roman bishop in defense of the gospel and the Reformed confession. So committed was de Bres to Romans 13 as the Word of God that his last message to the people, delivered from the scaffold upon which he was to die, was that the people should obey the magistrate.”
On this day, in 1567, Guy de Bres (b. 1522) was martyred for the gospel. Guy or Guido de Bres was born in Hainaut, Belgium, which is about 37 miles southwest of Brussels, the fifth child. His family was successful enough in business (his father is usually said to have been a craftsman) for Guy to attend university. Like many other young men of the era who attended university, he encountered the evangelical (Protestant) doctrines of salvation sola gratia, sola fide, sola Scriptura and was converted from Romanism to the Reformed confession. He became sufficiently identified with the Reformation that he had to flee to London, where he was with the Flemish Reformed pastor-theologian Petrus Dathenus (1531–88), Maarten Micron (1523–59), who wrote a summary of the faith (Compendium Doctrinae, 1551) that was widely used by the Reformed in the Lowlands, and the Polish Reformer of Emden, Johannes a Lasco (Jan Łaski), the superintendent of the “Strangers” [Refugees] Church in the old Austin Friars church, London. By 1552 we find Guy back in his home country, just a few miles southwest of Hainaut, serving as pastor of one of the many “churches under the cross,” i.e., the Reformed Churches suffering a bloody persecution under Spanish-Romanist tyranny. By the mid-50s he was again forced to flee, this time to Frankfurt, where he joined refugees from England (who themselves were fleeing persecution under “Bloody Mary” Tudor). There he found himself with, among others, the great Scottish Reformer, John Knox (1513–72) and in the midst of a heated controversy between the Anglicans, who held that the church may do (and impose), in worship, whatever is not forbidden and the Reformed, who confessed that the church may do (and impose), in worship, only what God has commanded. In the late 50’s we find him Lausanne, Switzerland, where he was studying with none other than Theodore de Beze (Beza; 1519–1605), the great Reformed humanist and Calvin’s successor in Geneva. He studied there with Beza for two years and even followed him to Geneva, when he was called there to help Calvin and to serve as headmaster of the new Academy there. In 1559, de Bres left Geneva for Tournai, Belgium about 475 miles to the north. He was there two years and it was in this period that he preached the sermons (according to Adrian Saravia’s 1612 letter) that became the basis for the Belgic Confession, which was published in 1561.
From 1561 we see Guy serving as a court chaplain in Sedan, France—on the run again because of Romanist persecution—whence he made regular, underground trips North to serve congregations in Belgium. In this period the persecution of the Reformed intensified. The Reformed were reduced to meeting for worship under the guise of “dinner parties” and gathering secretly in rural areas when they could get a preacher. One of the tell-tale signs of a Reformed worship service in this period: Psalm singing. The Spanish knew that they had found an illegal Reformed congregation when they found them singing God’s Word in worship in response to the Word preached and made visible in the sacraments.