Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Wonder Years

NOTE: This blog post is NOT about the TV series The Wonder Years. :)

Throughout human history, some years have been so noted for their calamities or providences or wonders that a whole year is designated a wonder year (Queen Elizabeth II famously described 1992 as Annus Horribilis). I will highlight three "wonder years" in Protestant church history as examples.

The Place: Holland. The Year: Spring 1566 to Spring 1567.
To the Dutch, 1566 was known as Wonderjaar (Wonder Year) ['Hunger Year' to some because of the major harvest failure of 1565]. At this time, the Spanish ruled the Netherlands with a Roman Catholic iron fist. But in February 1566, the Geuzen ("Beggars"), as they came to be known, entered into a confederacy of opposition to tyrannical Spanish rule, called the Compromise of Breda. On April 5, 1566, they presented their Request (petition of grievances) to the regent, Margaret, Duchess of Parma, which led to the abolition of the Inquisition in Holland and other measures aimed at the supression of Protestant 'heretics.' As the popular Calvinistic resistance to Spanish rule gathered steam, open-air preaching in the modern arrondissement of Dunkirk in French Flanders led to the summer of 'Beeldenstorm,' iconoclastic riots in the summer of 1566 which targeted Catholic icons. (Public preaching of the gospel by Calvinists in Holland was legalized for the first time by Margaret of Parma on August 23, 1566.) These actions constituted a Dutch Revolt, which inaugurated, two years later, the Eighty Years' War, and led to the 1581 Dutch Declaration of Independence.

The Place: London, England. Year: 1665-1666. In England, 1665 was the year of the Great Fire of London, followed by the 1666 Great Plague. These occurences rank among the worst calamities ever to hit London. Among the Puritans it was noted that they followed the Restoration (1660), and the imposition of the persecuting Sedition Act (1661), Act of Uniformity and Black St. Bartholomew's Day (1662), the Conventicle Act (1664) and the Five Mile Act (1665) and so perceived as God's judgment upon a nation that had broken its engagements to the Solemn League & Covenant. The Second Anglo-Dutch War was ongoing and there were notable events that caused wonder in both years: the Battle of Lowestoft on June 13, 1665 was a great victory for the British and remains the Netherlands' worst naval defeat; the Four Days Battle in June 1666 was one of the longest naval engagements in military history and, in part due to a providentially unseasonable fog bank, resulted in a Dutch victory; and the St. James Battle a month later, which was a significant English victory (although it was the Dutch who won the Second Anglo-Dutch War in 1667). John Dryden took a different perspective on the vicissitudes of war and providential calamities, ie., that it could be worse and that God had miraculously saved England in his famous poem, Annus Mirabilis: The Year of Wonders, 1666. An Historical Poem. Thus, a year (1666) that included such notable events was designated, for the first time in literature, Annus Mirablis. It was also a year that included the famous numeral "666" and, in Roman numerals, every number was included, from the largest to the smallest, in descending order: MDCLXVI.

The Place: Holland. The Year: 1672. - While sometimes referred to as Wonderjaar (Wonder Year) or Annus Mirabilis (Year of Miracles), the Dutch often described 1672 as Rampjaar (Disaster Year). Holland was invaded by four foreign powers (England, France and two German Electors) which opened the Third Anglo-Dutch War. Nevertheless, despite overwhelming opposing forces and much grief inflicted, the Dutch were providentially saved.

Jacobus Koleman alludes to the Rampjaar in The Duties of Children (trans. John Vriend, ed. M. Eugene Osterhaven, pp. 55-56):

56. Talk with [your children] about the history of our country, about the oppression of our ancestors by the anti-Christian Spanish Inquisition. Tell them how marvelously the Lord saved and delivered us and granted us freedom and how he blessed our struggle against Spain, although we had but little power and were in great danger. Make clear to them how God preserved this country and supported the Dutch Reformed Church when Arminianism entered the land.

Tell them how God visited this country with severe judgments, plague, and war against various kings and especially how God brought us into the greatest danger and plunged us into numerous oppressions in 1672[6] and the years following, how ungrateful this country and people have been to the Lord and how, despite all of this, God always helped and saved us. In this connection, it would be useful for you to read the book written by that zealous servant of God Abraham Van de Velde, The Miracles of the Most High, and also to give it to your children to read, rather than the little book that is customarily used, The Spanish Tyranny.

Do all this conformably to Psalm 78:4-5: "We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done. For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children."

6. The year 1672 was a troubled period in the history of the Netherlands. After its second trade war with England, when the country was exhausted, the French army of Louis XIV invaded the Netherlands when France was expanding its borders. In the turmoil that followed, Jan De Witt, the most able statesman in Holland, was murdered by a frenzied mob, and dykes were broken to flood part of the country in order to stop the victorious advance of the hostile army.

To conclude, it is worth quoting chapter 50 almost in full from Van de Velde's book The Wonders of the Most High (A 125-Year History of the United Netherlands 1550-1675):

1672 The Year of Disasters

The last years have shown how the Lord not only saved us, but the greater the need, the more He showed among us the wonders of His mighty arm for our good. With emotion we think back to the sad year, 1672.

Two mighty kings, of France and England, together with some mighty German Princes declared war, and the armies of the enemy penetrated into he heart of the country. No rivers or strongholds could bring them to a standstill. In less then forty days they took forty cities, Utrecht, in the heart of the country among them.

We were much afraid. The wisest among us could see nothing but the end of the famous Republic. There seemed to be nothing that could be done, but submit to the triumphant enemy. Like our fathers in the worst of times attempted escape with wives and children in boats, so now many spoke of making a covenant with the enemy, and submit to their rule. What is more, this was not only heard from the common man, but even the great and mighty in the land saw no other way out. The learned Oomius relates that even the States of Holland and Zeeland wrote that they judged ambassadors should be sent to the King of France to negotiate. See Oomius, War Trumpet, page 33.

Notice that the States of Holland not only judged that they must negotiate with the King of France, but that it was urgent. They also urged other provinces to do the same. Could it be more serious? But what? Did the Lord forsake them? In no wise! When the ship of the Republic was sinking and it seemed to be nearly wrecked; when our freedom and our religion, and all glory seemed to turn into constant slavery; exactly then the Lord became our light, our strength and our salvation. After all His previous wonders He brought light into our darkness, and gave the provinces cause to sing with Israel of old, "He is my God and I will prepare Him an habitation; my Father's God and I will exalt Him" (Ex. 15: 2).

What were God's deeds other then a living declaration of His old faithfulness, and goodness shown to the Fathers? And why? To bind us to Himself by these new wonders and so turn the hearts of the fathers unto the children; to teach us to trust Him as the only Rock of our salvation, to praise His name.

The Lord gave us a clear sign when in one year (1673), our fleet fought three battles with two Royal fleets of England and France. They were on the seventh and fourteenth of June, and the twenty-first of August. It pleased the Lord to give us the victory. Admiral De Ruyter witnessed "that the Lord had been signally with them, in saving officers and sailors."

In the second battle not one officer went missing, and few others were lost. A Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer was called for at the fifth of July 1673, to praise and thank the Lord that He had so clearly sustained and supported us.

And like the Lord renewed His wonders at sea, so He aided ours in the war on land. We will only remember when the French attacked the little city of Aardenburg. They came with 6,000 men, and were not only thrown back by a handful of ours, but in such a way that they left behind 400 prisoners, 500 killed, and retreated taking 20 wagon loads of wounded with them. See "The Netherlands in Distress", page 312. The French did not think there would be any resistance, they were certain of victory as was said in a letter, July 24, from Middelburg.

The author of this letter from Middelburg says very well: If the great God had not armed the defenders with so remarkable courage, the city would have been lost to the enemy. It is difficult to describe the zeal of tender women and children. They kept on bringing gunpowder and led; they dried wet gunpowder between their hands; most women wore hats so they appeared as men to the enemy when they showed themselves on the ramparts. They loaded the muskets for the men; the artillery instead of using grape-shot and bullets, used cast iron pots which the women had hammered into pieces. See "The Netherlands in Distress", page 287. By delivering this city the Lord worked out His Counsel to aid the fatherland.

In another city there was at that time just one constable. He did not live in the city, and was there visiting friends, but did extraordinary work to aid the city. Before this we spoke of such wonders of the Most High, used in the outworking of His infallible counsel. All things are in His service, and with Him all things are possible.

It was August of 1672 that the English were attempting to intercept our merchant ships that were returning from the East Indies. The Lord kept ours in a wonderful way in that the enemy did not see ours, and when they were finally spotted by them, the Lord hindered them by storm winds and tides to attack them in such a way that they were forced to look for shelter in their own harbours. When the Duke of Luxembourg was told this, he is said to have remarked, "It is good to hear those pirates missed this time". It was said this was so remarkable at the time, for these skippers coming from the East-Indies did not know there was a war being fought.

What prevented the English to take De Briel in 1672, when their fleet was before the Meuse river? Nothing but a heavy fog. It is also said that the ebb tide continued a couple more hours than is usual. See the Holland Mercury of 1673. It seems to us that this too must be reckoned with the wonders. Truly remarkable matters. The Lord showed here that He can use several ways and means to work out His Counsel.

As the Lord helped us at sea, so He also showed His Providence against the enemy armies on land. For by His Providence the Lord hindered the French to enter Holland (province). When in the latter end of 1672 they pulled out of Utrecht with 14 or 15,000 men, and after they took Leyden and had plundered The Hague their joy was so great that they were certain all of Holland was in their power. It was winter and the rivers were frozen over, the Prince was with his army at Charleroi and they were sure to have gained their objective.

But little they remembered the ways and means the Lord used in the past to help and assist the United Netherlands. See what happened. While the enemy advanced, the Lord suddenly sent mild weather, and the French being afraid that the ice by which they gained entrance would not be able to carry them much longer, returned with great haste to the place whence they came. That their fear was grounded was seen when the Duke of Luxembourg fell with his horse through the ice, and could not be saved but by much difficulty, while he was also slightly wounded. Hereby was their attempt frustrated, and they were greatly disappointed. It was said that the French, because of their disappointment aimed their pistols at the heavens, blasphemed God, and behaved like impatient mad men. But when people rage in this manner, "The wrath of men shall praise Him"; and, "He is terrible to the Kings of the earth". Psalm 76.

As clearly as the Lord fought against the French with a sudden thaw, He assisted us with His winds against the armies of the Bishops of Munster. When they were minded to lay siege against Coevorden, they laid dams in the river Vecht. The water rose and was already running over the city moats. The dam built by the Bishop's men was well built. It was 90 feet wide at the bottom and 24 on top. He also planted 60 pieces of artillery on the dam. The garrison of the city could not think of attacking such a formidable bulwark. When the Bishop was certain of the victory, and his friends boasted that the city would come into his hands, the Lord sent such a terrible wind-storm on the 1st day of October 1673, that the dike gave way in three places. Hereby, the Lord our God frustrated the designs of the Bishop, and the work on which they had laboured all summer fell apart like cob webs. Two hundred farmers who were compelled to work on the dike, all drowned, along with 4 or 500 soldiers who were guarding the dike. Lieutenant-Colonel Hostmar who traveled with some ladies in a coach also drowned.

To their great joy, Coevorden was relieved, and they came from Groningen to help with all kinds of provisions. A History writer rightly remarks that it is only the Lord Who must receive the glory for such relief.

Ph. Doktor, in a Treatise concerning "Theological and Political Considerations" relates that among the Wonders of the Lord and the means of our deliverance was the elevation and promotion of the Prince of Orange at that time. Truly, if we take notice of any matter whereby the Lord worked our deliverance, and in which He dealt marvelously, this is it. We will first let the author speak, and then say our opinion. He writes:

"Our country was in great confusion and perplexity, and the three provinces, Gelderland, Overijsel and Utrecht were already overpowered, and the inhabitants like formerly Israel 2 Kings 19: 26, were afraid and trembling and there seemed to be no deliverer. But the Lord remembering His faithfulness and the blessings given this nation by the hands of the illustrious house of Orange Nassau in previous days, called upon the youthful sprout of that dynasty His Highness the Prince of Orange (William III), girded him with the courage of a lion, and with his small army gave us thus far the victory.

"When this heroic branch of the House of Orange was despised by gross ingratitude, the God of wonders did a great thing before our eyes in that He turned the hearts of the Regents in a moment to elevate this young hero to Captain General of army and navy, and also to Stadtholder of Holland and Western Friesland. He, the Master Builder of all things took that stone rejected by the builders of our country, and made him into a head of the corner." See also page 12 of the same Treatise.

Taking further note of what the Lord wrought, it is known that one wonder followed another. For the Lord did not only deliver us from our enemies, but with the prophet we can say, "the Lord has cast out our enemy" (Zeph.3: 15). After the Lord gave into the heart of our Prince to take Bonn, he put terror in the heart of the enemy that they fled the country with the same haste as they took possession of the same a little earlier. See the Holland Mercury of November 1673.

When we were down in deep distress, the Lord dealt with us as in days of yore. For as He gave us Prince William 1, Blest Memory, to deliver us when the waters rose above our heads, He also gave us this our noble Prince, by whose hand His Majesty gave us marvelously in His good will, relief and glorious deliverance. Our enemies who mockingly said, "That we had nothing but prayer and the Prince", came to experience to their shame, that they were conquered by both.

To come to a conclusion we have seen how the Lord was merciful to us in the hour of despair, and that in spite of the fact we provoked Him by our sins, He did not destroy us.

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