William of Orange, Hero of Protestantism

William of Orange, Hero of Protestantism 2017-04-06T01:40:07+00:00

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William, Prince of Orange was born on 4 November 1650 at the Binnenhof, The Hague, in the Netherlands.  On 21 January 1651 he was baptised at the Grote Kerk.  When he was nine he was sent to Leiden to further his education.  As well as history, geography, and Latin, he studied French, Dutch, English and Mathematics.  He attended church twice daily, once to the French church and once to the Dutch church. His religious education was the responsibility of Pastor Cornelius Trigland.  Cornelius Trigland was the son of Jacobus Trigland, a Dutch Reformed Theologian, who had been Professor of Theology at the University of Leiden and was Pastor of the Reformed Church at Leiden from 1637-1645.  He had been a representative to the Synod of Dort and was a member of the committee which drew up the Canons of Dort, which contained the five points of Calvinism.

Following William’s death in 1702, the nephew of Cornelius Trigland gave an oration at the University of Leiden, in which he said that his uncle repeatedly held up William’s insight, morals, character and virtue as an example for his nephew.  He told him that on more than one occasion, when he had gone into William’s room unexpectedly, he had found the young prince kneeling in prayer, praying that he might become a foster-father and a supporting pillar of the church.

Before his death in 1672, Cornelius Trigland wrote a final letter to William.  ‘I am now in a state of great pain and tribulation, longing daily for my merciful release.  But though I may not see Your Highness’s face in this world, yet I remember that I have brought you up in the true faith and shown you the foundations of that blessedness in which all the saints of both the Old and New Testament have died … May He cover your head in the day of battle and crown you with victory and honour’.

The early influence of William’s Calvinist upbringing was noted by Bishop Burnet, who wasn’t a Calvinist, who wrote in his ‘History of His own time’: ‘I fancied his belief of Predestination made him more adventurous than was necessary.  But he said as to that, he firmly believed in providence: for if he should let that go, all his religion would be much shaken; and he did not see, how providence could be certain, if all things did not arise out of the absolute will of God.  I found those who had the charge of his education had taken more care to possess him with the Calvinistic notions of absolute decrees, than to guard him against the ill effects of those opinions in practice…’.

William was conscious of the need to give thanks to God.  In October 1674 he captured Grave, the last French foothold in the Netherlands.  A thanksgiving service has held in the town, where his chaplain spoke from 1 Samuel 7 v 12, ‘Hitherto hath the Lord helped us’.  When William landed at Torbay on 5 November 1688, his Scottish Chaplain, Rev William Carstares led a thanksgiving service on the beach, with the singing of the 118th Psalm.

William saw his role as supporting the Reformed Faith, and in 1688 the States General of the United Provinces issued an order to set aside a day for prayer, which described William’s expedition to England as supporting the Reformed Faith and maintaining the peace within the whole of Christendom.  In 1689 William wrote a letter to his aunt, where he stated that the Glorious Revolution manifested God’s will.

When in 1691, William returned to the Netherlands, the synod of South Holland of the Dutch Reformed Church described him as a sanctified man, whose life and safety were of the highest importance to the Church of God.  William responded that he would devote himself to the glory of God and promised to do everything in his power to defend and expand the kingdom of Christ.

Ministers of the Dutch Reformed Church wrote tracts in support of William whom they looked upon as a gift of God to the Netherlands and to Europe.  Simon Oomius (1630-1706) an orthodox Calvinist minister of the Dutch Reformed Church wrote in 1674 of his joy at William’s victories in the Netherlands, and stressed the need for prayer for the success of William, who like King David in the Bible, fought a righteous war.  He also wrote celebrating William’s accession to the throne of Britain in 1688.  Another Dutch Calvinist who wrote in support of William was Franciscus Ridderus, who ministered at Schermerhorn, Brielle and Rotterdam.

Rev Frederick Rupert Gibson, a former Moderator of the Irish Presbyterian Church, wrote: ‘William Prince of Orange was a Presbyterian. In Holland he had been brought up as a strict Calvinist.  From his infancy he had been taught to believe the great doctrines concerning the supremacy of God, the Lordship of Christ, the complete sinfulness, depravity and unworthiness of man.  The Calvinistic and Scriptural doctrine of Predestination was the keystone of his religion.’

A book of prayers written by William, which were used in his daily devotions and for special occasions, included these words: ‘Grant me such a sense of my sins, and of the sufficiency of my beloved Saviour for them, as may affect my heart with a deep sorrow for my sins, and an eternal hatred and displeasure against them, and may effectually engage me to love, and live to Him who died for me, Jesus Christ, my blessed Saviour and Redeemer. Amen.’

Rev Ian Dunlop in his biography of William Carstares has written: ‘William III held to the great truths of the Bible, interpreted in Calvinist form, with a magnificent idea of God and tremendous respect for human responsibility and integrity of life.  The menace to the faith was represented in French amorality and the grandiose purposes of Louis XIV.  There is in Voltaire’s ‘Age of Louis XIV’ a wonderful tribute to William, who hardly ever won a skirmish against the Great King and yet in the end was more responsible than any man for the defeat of his design.  For the faithfulness that comes from real faith begets a persistence that can hardly be defeated’.

Rev J A Wylie’s History of Protestantism states that: ‘William ascended the throne as the representative of Protestantism.  That throne, destined to become the greatest in the world, we behold won for the Reformation.  This was the triumph, not of English Protestantism only, it was the triumph of the Protestantism of all Christendom.  It was the resurrection of the cause of the French Huguenots, and through them that of Calvin and the Church of Geneva.  It was the revival not less of the cause of the Scots Covenanters, whose torn and blood-stained flag, upheld at the latter end of their struggle by only a few laymen, was soon to be crowned with victory’.