The Great Controversy
Between Christ and Satan
The French Reformation
The Protest of Spires and the Confession at Augsburg,
which marked the triumph of the Reformation in
Germany, were followed by years of conflict and darkness.
Weakened by divisions among its supporters, and assailed
by powerful foes, Protestantism seemed destined to be
utterly destroyed. Thousands sealed their testimony with their
blood. Civil war broke out; the Protestant cause was betrayed
by one of its leading adherents; the noblest of the reformed
princes fell into the hands of the emperor and were dragged
as captives from town to town. But in the moment of his
apparent triumph, the emperor was smitten with defeat. He
saw the prey wrested from his grasp, and he was forced at last
to grant toleration to the doctrines which it had been the
ambition of his life to destroy. He had staked his kingdom, his
treasures, and life itself upon the crushing out of the heresy.
Now he saw his armies wasted by battle, his treasuries
drained, his many kingdoms threatened by revolt, while
everywhere the faith which he had vainly endeavored to
suppress, was extending. Charles V had been battling against
omnipotent power. God had said, "Let there be light," but
the emperor had sought to keep the darkness unbroken. His
purposes had failed; and in premature old age, worn out with
the long struggle, he abdicated the throne and buried himself
in a cloister.
In Switzerland, as in Germany, there came dark days for
the Reformation. While many cantons accepted the reformed
faith, others clung with blind persistence to the creed of
Rome. Their persecution of those who desired to receive
the truth finally gave rise to civil war. Zwingli and many
who had united with him in reform fell on the bloody field
of Cappel. Oecolampadius, overcome by these terrible disasters,
soon after died. Rome was triumphant, and in many
places seemed about to recover all that she had lost. But He
whose counsels are from everlasting had not forsaken His
cause or His people. His hand would bring deliverance for
them. In other lands He had raised up laborers to carry
forward the reform.
In France, before the name of Luther had been heard as a
Reformer, the day had already begun to break. One of the
first to catch the light was the aged Lefevre, a man of extensive
learning, a professor in the University of Paris, and a
sincere and zealous papist. In his researches into ancient
literature his attention was directed to the Bible, and he
introduced its study among his students.
Lefevre was an enthusiastic adorer of the saints, and he
had undertaken to prepare a history of the saints and martyrs
as given in the legends of the church. This was a work which
involved great labor; but he had already made considerable
progress in it, when, thinking that he might obtain useful
assistance from the Bible, he began its study with this object.
Here indeed he found saints brought to view, but not such as
figured in the Roman calendar. A flood of divine light broke
in upon his mind. In amazement and disgust he turned away
from his self-appointed task and devoted himself to the word
of God. The precious truths which he there discovered he
soon began to teach.
In 1512, before either Luther or Zwingli had begun the
work of reform, Lefevre wrote: "It is God who gives us, by
faith, that righteousness which by grace alone justifies to
eternal life."--Wylie, b. 13, ch. 1. Dwelling upon the
mysteries of redemption, he exclaimed: "Oh, the unspeakable
greatness of that exchange,--the Sinless One is condemned,
and he who is guilty goes free; the Blessing bears the curse,
and the cursed is brought into blessing; the Life dies, and
the dead live; the Glory is whelmed in darkness, and he who
knew nothing but confusion of face is clothed with glory."--
D'Aubigne, London ed., b. 12, ch. 2.
And while teaching that the glory of salvation belongs
solely to God, he also declared that the duty of obedience
belongs to man. "If thou art a member of Christ's church," he
said, "thou art a member of His body; if thou art of His
body, then thou art full of the divine nature. . . . Oh, if men
could but enter into the understanding of this privilege, how
purely, chastely, and holily would they live, and how
contemptible, when compared with the glory within them,--
that glory which the eye of flesh cannot see,--would they
deem all the glory of this world."-- Ibid., b. 12, ch. 2.
There were some among Lefevre's students who listened
eagerly to his words, and who, long after the teacher's voice
should be silenced, were to continue to declare the truth.
Such was William Farel. The son of pious parents, and
educated to accept with implicit faith the teachings of the
church, he might, with the apostle Paul, have declared
concerning himself: "After the most straitest sect of our religion
I lived a Pharisee." Acts 26:5. A devoted Romanist, he
burned with zeal to destroy all who should dare to oppose
the church. "I would gnash my teeth like a furious wolf," he
afterward said, referring to this period of his life, "when I
heard anyone speaking against the pope."--Wylie, b. 13, ch.
2. He had been untiring in his adoration of the saints, in
company with Lefevre making the round of the churches of
Paris, worshipping at the altars, and adorning with gifts the
holy shrines. But these observances could not bring peace of
soul. Conviction of sin fastened upon him, which all the acts
of penance that he practiced failed to banish. As to a voice
from heaven he listened to the Reformer's words: "Salvation
is of grace." "The Innocent One is condemned, and the
criminal is acquitted." "It is the cross of Christ alone that
openeth the gates of heaven, and shutteth the gates of hell."
-- Ibid., b. 13, ch. 2.
Farel joyfully accepted the truth. By a conversion like that
of Paul he turned from the bondage of tradition to the liberty
of the sons of God. "Instead of the murderous heart of a
ravening wolf," he came back, he says, "quietly like a meek and
harmless lamb, having his heart entirely withdrawn from the
pope, and given to Jesus Christ."--D'Aubigne, b. 12, ch. 3.
While Lefevre continued to spread the light among his
students, Farel, as zealous in the cause of Christ as he had
been in that of the pope, went forth to declare the truth in
public. A dignitary of the church, the bishop of Meaux, soon
after united with them. Other teachers who ranked high for
their ability and learning joined in proclaiming the gospel,
and it won adherents among all classes, from the homes of
artisans and peasants to the palace of the king. The sister of
Francis I, then the reigning monarch, accepted the reformed
faith. The king himself, and the queen mother, appeared
for a time to regard it with favor, and with high hopes the
Reformers looked forward to the time when France should
be won to the gospel.
But their hopes were not to be realized. Trial and
persecution awaited the disciples of Christ. This, however, was
mercifully veiled from their eyes. A time of peace intervened,
that they might gain strength to meet the tempest; and the
Reformation made rapid progress. The bishop of Meaux labored
zealously in his own diocese to instruct both the clergy
and the people. Ignorant and immoral priests were removed,
and, so far as possible, replaced by men of learning and piety.
The bishop greatly desired that his people might have access
to the word of God for themselves, and this was soon
accomplished. Lefevre undertook the translation of the New
Testament; and at the very time when Luther's German Bible was
issuing from the press in Wittenberg, the French New Testament
was published at Meaux. The bishop spared no labor
or expense to circulate it in his parishes, and soon the
peasants of Meaux were in possession of the Holy Scriptures.
As travelers perishing from thirst welcome with joy a
living water spring, so did these souls receive the message of
heaven. The laborers in the field, the artisans in the workshop,
cheered their daily toil by talking of the precious truths
of the Bible. At evening, instead of resorting to the
wine-shops, they assembled in one another's homes to read God's
word and join in prayer and praise. A great change was soon
manifest in these communities. Though belonging to the
humblest class, an unlearned and hard-working peasantry,
the reforming, uplifting power of divine grace was seen in
their lives. Humble, loving, and holy, they stood as witnesses
to what the gospel will accomplish for those who receive it
The light kindled at Meaux shed its beams afar. Every
day the number of converts was increasing. The rage of the
hierarchy was for a time held in check by the king, who
despised the narrow bigotry of the monks; but the papal
leaders finally prevailed. Now the stake was set up. The
bishop of Meaux, forced to choose between the fire and
recantation, accepted the easier path; but notwithstanding the
leader's fall, his flock remained steadfast. Many witnessed for
the truth amid the flames. By their courage and fidelity at
the stake, these humble Christians spoke to thousands who
in days of peace had never heard their testimony.
It was not alone the humble and the poor that amid suffering
and scorn dared to bear witness for Christ. In the lordly
halls of the castle and the palace there were kingly souls by
whom truth was valued above wealth or rank or even life.
Kingly armor concealed a loftier and more steadfast spirit
than did the bishop's robe and miter. Louis de Berquin was
of noble birth. A brave and courtly knight, he was devoted
to study, polished in manners, and of blameless morals. "He
was," says a writer, "a great follower of the papistical
constitutions, and a great hearer of masses and sermons; . . . and
he crowned all his other virtues by holding Lutheranism in
special abhorrence." But, like so many others, providentially
guided to the Bible, he was amazed to find there, "not the
doctrines of Rome, but the doctrines of Luther."--Wylie,
b. 13, ch. 9. Henceforth he gave himself with entire devotion
to the cause of the gospel.
"The most learned of the nobles of France," his genius
and eloquence, his indomitable courage and heroic zeal, and
his influence at court,--for he was a favorite with the king,--
caused him to be regarded by many as one destined to be the
Reformer of his country. Said Beza: "Berquin would have
been a second Luther, had he found in Francis I a second
elector." "He is worse than Luther," cried the papists.-- Ibid.,
b. 13, ch. 9. More dreaded he was indeed by the Romanists
of France. They thrust him into prison as a heretic, but he
was set at liberty by the king. For years the struggle
continued. Francis, wavering between Rome and the Reformation,
alternately tolerated and restrained the fierce zeal of the
monks. Berquin was three times imprisoned by the papal
authorities, only to be released by the monarch, who, in
admiration of his genius and his nobility of character,
refused to sacrifice him to the malice of the hierarchy.
Berquin was repeatedly warned of the danger that threatened
him in France, and urged to follow the steps of those
who had found safety in voluntary exile. The timid and
time-serving Erasmus, who with all the splendor of his
scholarship failed of that moral greatness which holds life
and honor subservient to truth, wrote to Berquin: "Ask to be
sent as ambassador to some foreign country; go and travel in
Germany. You know Beda and such as he--he is a thousand-headed
monster, darting venom on every side. Your enemies
are named legion. Were your cause better than that of Jesus
Christ, they will not let you go till they have miserably
destroyed you. Do not trust too much to the king's
protection. At all events, do not compromise me with the
faculty of theology."-- Ibid., b. 13, ch. 9.
But as dangers thickened, Berquin's zeal only waxed the
stronger. So far from adopting the politic and self-serving
counsel of Erasmus, he determined upon still bolder measures.
He would not only stand in defense of the truth, but
he would attack error. The charge of heresy which the
Romanists were seeking to fasten upon him, he would rivet
upon them. The most active and bitter of his opponents were
the learned doctors and monks of the theological department
in the great University of Paris, one of the highest ecclesiastical
authorities both in the city and the nation. From the
writings of these doctors, Berquin drew twelve propositions
which he publicly declared to be "opposed to the Bible, and
heretical;" and he appealed to the king to act as judge in the
The monarch, not loath to bring into contrast the power
and acuteness of the opposing champions, and glad of an
opportunity of humbling the pride of these haughty monks,
bade the Romanists defend their cause by the Bible. This
weapon, they well knew, would avail them little; imprisonment,
torture, and the stake were arms which they better
understood how to wield. Now the tables were turned, and
they saw themselves about to fall into the pit into which they
had hoped to plunge Berquin. In amazement they looked
about them for some way of escape.
"Just at that time an image of the Virgin at the corner of
one of the streets, was mutilated." There was great excitement
in the city. Crowds of people flocked to the place, with
expressions of mourning and indignation. The king also
was deeply moved. Here was an advantage which the monks
could turn to good account, and they were quick to improve
it. "These are the fruits of the doctrines of Berquin," they
cried. "All is about to be overthrown--religion, the laws,
the throne itself--by this Lutheran conspiracy."-- Ibid., b.
13, ch. 9.
Again Berquin was apprehended. The king withdrew
from Paris, and the monks were thus left free to work their
will. The Reformer was tried and condemned to die, and lest
Francis should even yet interpose to save him, the sentence
was executed on the very day it was pronounced. At noon
Berquin was conducted to the place of death. An immense
throng gathered to witness the event, and there were many
who saw with astonishment and misgiving that the victim
had been chosen from the best and bravest of the noble
families of France. Amazement, indignation, scorn, and bitter
hatred darkened the faces of that surging crowd; but upon
one face no shadow rested. The martyr's thoughts were far
from that scene of tumult; he was conscious only of the
presence of his Lord.
The wretched tumbrel upon which he rode, the frowning
faces of his persecutors, the dreadful death to which he was
going--these he heeded not; He who liveth and was dead,
and is alive for evermore, and hath the keys of death and of
hell, was beside him. Berquin's countenance was radiant
with the light and peace of heaven. He had attired himself
in goodly raiment, wearing "a cloak of velvet, a doublet of
satin and damask, and golden hose."--D'Aubigne, History
of the Reformation in Europe in the Time of Calvin, b. 2,
ch. 16. He was about to testify to his faith in the presence of
the King of kings and the witnessing universe, and no token
of mourning should belie his joy.
As the procession moved slowly through the crowded
streets, the people marked with wonder the unclouded
peace, and joyous triumph, of his look and bearing. "He
is," they said, "like one who sits in a temple, and meditates
on holy things."--Wylie, b. 13, ch. 9.
At the stake, Berquin endeavored to address a few words
to the people; but the monks, fearing the result, began to
shout, and the soldiers to clash their arms, and their clamor
drowned the martyr's voice. Thus in 1529 the highest literary
and ecclesiastical authority of cultured Paris "set the populace
of 1793 the base example of stifling on the scaffold the sacred
words of the dying."-- Ibid., b, 13, ch. 9.
Berquin was strangled, and his body was consumed in the
flames. The tidings of his death caused sorrow to the friends
of the Reformation throughout France. But his example was
not lost. "We, too, are ready," said the witnesses for the
truth, "to meet death cheerfully, setting our eyes on the life
that is to come."--D'Aubigne, History of the Reformation in
Europe in the Time of Calvin, b. 2, ch. 16.
During the persecution of Meaux, the teachers of the
reformed faith were deprived of their license to preach, and
they departed to other fields. Lefevre after a time made his
way to Germany. Farel returned to his native town in eastern
France, to spread the light in the home of his childhood.
Already tidings had been received of what was going on at
Meaux, and the truth, which he taught with fearless zeal,
found listeners. Soon the authorities were roused to silence
him, and he was banished from the city. Though he could
no longer labor publicly, he traversed the plains and villages,
teaching in private dwellings and in secluded meadows, and
finding shelter in the forests and among the rocky caverns
which had been his haunts in boyhood. God was preparing
him for greater trials. "The crosses, persecutions, and
machinations of Satan, of which I was forewarned, have not been
wanting," he said; "they are even much severer than I could
have borne of myself; but God is my Father; He has
provided and always will provide me the strength which I
require."--D'Aubigne, History of the Reformation of the
Sixteenth Century, b. 12, ch. 9.
As in apostolic days, persecution had "fallen out rather
unto the furtherance of the gospel." Philippians 1:12. Driven
from Paris and Meaux, "they that were scattered abroad went
everywhere preaching the word." Acts 8:4. And thus the light
found its way into many of the remote provinces of France.
God was still preparing workers to extend His cause. In
one of the schools of Paris was a thoughtful, quiet youth,
already giving evidence of a powerful and penetrating mind,
and no less marked for the blamelessness of his life than for
intellectual ardor and religious devotion. His genius and
application soon made him the pride of the college, and it
was confidently anticipated that John Calvin would become
one of the ablest and most honored defenders of the church.
But a ray of divine light penetrated even within the walls of
scholasticism and superstition by which Calvin was enclosed.
He heard of the new doctrines with a shudder, nothing
doubting that the heretics deserved the fire to which they
were given. Yet all unwittingly he was brought face to face
with the heresy and forced to test the power of Romish
theology to combat the Protestant teaching.
A cousin of Calvin's, who had joined the Reformers, was
in Paris. The two kinsmen often met and discussed together
the matters that were disturbing Christendom. "There are
but two religions in the world," said Olivetan, the Protestant.
"The one class of religions are those which men have
invented, in all of which man saves himself by ceremonies and
good works; the other is that one religion which is revealed
in the Bible, and which teaches man to look for salvation
solely from the free grace of God."
"I will have none of your new doctrines," exclaimed
Calvin; "think you that I have lived in error all my days?"
--Wylie, b. 13, ch. 7.
But thoughts had been awakened in his mind which he
could not banish at will. Alone in his chamber he pondered
upon his cousin's words. Conviction of sin fastened upon
him; he saw himself, without an intercessor, in the presence
of a holy and just Judge. The mediation of saints, good
works, the ceremonies of the church, all were powerless to
atone for sin. He could see before him nothing but the
blackness of eternal despair. In vain the doctors of the church
endeavored to relieve his woe. Confession, penance, were
resorted to in vain; they could not reconcile the soul with God.
While still engaged in these fruitless struggles, Calvin,
chancing one day to visit one of the public squares, witnessed
there the burning of a heretic. He was filled with wonder
at the expression of peace which rested upon the martyr's
countenance. Amid the tortures of that dreadful death, and
under the more terrible condemnation of the church, he
manifested a faith and courage which the young student
painfully contrasted with his own despair and darkness,
while living in strictest obedience to the church. Upon the
Bible, he knew, the heretics rested their faith. He determined
to study it, and discover, if he could, the secret of their joy.
In the Bible he found Christ. "O Father," he cried, "His
sacrifice has appeased Thy wrath; His blood has washed
away my impurities; His cross has borne my curse; His death
has atoned for me. We had devised for ourselves many
useless follies, but Thou hast placed Thy word before me like
a torch, and Thou hast touched my heart, in order that I
may hold in abomination all other merits save those of Jesus."
--Martyn, vol. 3, ch. 13.
Calvin had been educated for the priesthood. When only
twelve years of age he had been appointed to the chaplaincy
of a small church, and his head had been shorn by the bishop
in accordance with the canon of the church. He did not
receive consecration, nor did he fulfill the duties of a
priest, but he became a member of the clergy, holding the
title of his office, and receiving an allowance in consideration
Now, feeling that he could never become a priest, he
turned for a time to the study of law, but finally abandoned
this purpose and determined to devote his life to the gospel.
But he hesitated to become a public teacher. He was
naturally timid, and was burdened with a sense of the
weighty responsibility of the position, and he desired still to
devote himself to study. The earnest entreaties of his friends,
however, at last won his consent. "Wonderful it is," he said,
"that one of so lowly an origin should be exalted to so great
a dignity."--Wylie, b. 13, ch. 9.
Quietly did Calvin enter upon his work, and his words
were as the dew falling to refresh the earth. He had left
Paris, and was now in a provincial town under the protection
of the princess Margaret, who, loving the gospel, extended
her protection to its disciples. Calvin was still a youth, of
gentle, unpretentious bearing. His work began with the
people at their homes. Surrounded by the members of the
household, he read the Bible and opened the truths of
salvation. Those who heard the message carried the good news
to others, and soon the teacher passed beyond the city to the
outlying towns and hamlets. To both the castle and the cabin
he found entrance, and he went forward, laying the foundation
of churches that were to yield fearless witnesses for the
A few months and he was again in Paris. There was
unwonted agitation in the circle of learned men and scholars.
The study of the ancient languages had led men to the Bible,
and many whose hearts were untouched by its truths were
eagerly discussing them and even giving battle to the
champions of Romanism. Calvin, though an able combatant in
the fields of theological controversy, had a higher mission to
accomplish than that of these noisy schoolmen. The minds
of men were stirred, and now was the time to open to them
the truth. While the halls of the universities were filled with
the clamor of theological disputation, Calvin was making his
way from house to house, opening the Bible to the people,
and speaking to them of Christ and Him crucified.
In God's providence, Paris was to receive another invitation
to accept the gospel. The call of Lefevre and Farel had
been rejected, but again the message was to be heard by all
classes in that great capital. The king, influenced by political
considerations, had not yet fully sided with Rome against the
Reformation. Margaret still clung to the hope that
Protestantism was to triumph in France. She resolved that the
reformed faith should be preached in Paris. During the absence
of the king, she ordered a Protestant minister to preach in the
churches of the city. This being forbidden by the papal
dignitaries, the princess threw open the palace. An apartment
was fitted up as a chapel, and it was announced that every
day, at a specified hour, a sermon would be preached, and
the people of every rank and station were invited to attend.
Crowds flocked to the service. Not only the chapel, but the
antechambers and halls were thronged. Thousands every day
assembled--nobles, statesmen, lawyers, merchants, and artisans.
The king, instead of forbidding the assemblies, ordered
that two of the churches of Paris should be opened. Never
before had the city been so moved by the word of God. The
spirit of life from heaven seemed to be breathed upon the
people. Temperance, purity, order, and industry were taking
the place of drunkenness, licentiousness, strife, and idleness.
But the hierarchy were not idle. The king still refused to
interfere to stop the preaching, and they turned to the populace.
No means were spared to excite the fears, the prejudices,
and the fanaticism of the ignorant and superstitious
multitude. Yielding blindly to her false teachers, Paris, like
Jerusalem of old, knew not the time of her visitation nor the
things which belonged unto her peace. For two years the
word of God was preached in the capital; but, while there
were many who accepted the gospel, the majority of the
people rejected it. Francis had made a show of toleration,
merely to serve his own purposes, and the papists
succeeded in regaining the ascendancy. Again the churches
were closed, and the stake was set up.
Calvin was still in Paris, preparing himself by study,
meditation, and prayer for his future labors, and continuing to
spread the light. At last, however, suspicion fastened upon
him. The authorities determined to bring him to the flames.
Regarding himself as secure in his seclusion, he had no
thought of danger, when friends came hurrying to his room
with the news that officers were on their way to arrest him.
At that instant a loud knocking was heard at the outer
entrance. There was not a moment to be lost. Some of his
friends detained the officers at the door, while others assisted
the Reformer to let himself down from a window, and he
rapidly made his way to the outskirts of the city. Finding
shelter in the cottage of a laborer who was a friend to the
reform, he disguised himself in the garments of his host, and,
shouldering a hoe, started on his journey. Traveling southward,
he again found refuge in the dominions of Margaret.
(See D'Aubigne, History of the Reformation in Europe in
the Time of Calvin, b. 2, ch. 30.)
Here for a few months he remained, safe under the
protection of powerful friends, and engaged as before in study.
But his heart was set upon the evangelization of France, and
he could not long remain inactive. As soon as the storm had
somewhat abated, he sought a new field of labor in Poitiers,
where was a university, and where already the new opinions
had found favor. Persons of all classes gladly listened to the
gospel. There was no public preaching, but in the home of
the chief magistrate, in his own lodgings, and sometimes in
a public garden, Calvin opened the words of eternal life to
those who desired to listen. After a time, as the number of
hearers increased, it was thought safer to assemble outside
the city. A cave in the side of a deep and narrow gorge,
where trees and overhanging rocks made the seclusion still
more complete, was chosen as the place of meeting. Little
companies, leaving the city by different routes, found their
way hither. In this retired spot the Bible was read aloud
and explained. Here the Lord's Supper was celebrated for
the first time by the Protestants of France. From this little
church several faithful evangelists were sent out.
Once more Calvin returned to Paris. He could not even
yet relinquish the hope that France as a nation would accept
the Reformation. But he found almost every door of labor
closed. To teach the gospel was to take the direct road to
the stake, and he at last determined to depart to Germany.
Scarcely had he left France when a storm burst over the
Protestants, that, had he remained, must surely have involved
him in the general ruin.
The French Reformers, eager to see their country keeping
pace with Germany and Switzerland, determined to strike a
bold blow against the superstitions of Rome, that should
arouse the whole nation. Accordingly placards attacking the
mass were in one night posted all over France. Instead of
advancing the reform, this zealous but ill-judged movement
brought ruin, not only upon its propagators, but upon the
friends of the reformed faith throughout France. It gave the
Romanists what they had long desired--a pretext for
demanding the utter destruction of the heretics as agitators
dangerous to the stability of the throne and the peace of the
By some secret hand--whether of indiscreet friend or wily
foe was never known--one of the placards was attached to
the door of the king's private chamber. The monarch was
filled with horror. In this paper, superstitions that had
received the veneration of ages were attacked with an unsparing
hand. And the unexampled boldness of obtruding these
plain and startling utterances into the royal presence aroused
the wrath of the king. In his amazement he stood for a little
time trembling and speechless. Then his rage found utterance
in the terrible words: "Let all be seized without distinction
who are suspected of Lutheresy. I will exterminate them
all.-- Ibid., b. 4, ch. 10. The die was cast. The king had
determined to throw himself fully on the side of Rome.
Measures were at once taken for the arrest of every
Lutheran in Paris. A poor artisan, an adherent of the reformed
faith, who had been accustomed to summon the believers to
their secret assemblies, was seized and, with the threat of
instant death at the stake, was commanded to conduct the
papal emissary to the home of every Protestant in the city.
He shrank in horror from the base proposal, but at last fear
of the flames prevailed, and he consented to become the
betrayer of his brethren. Preceded by the host, and
surrounded by a train of priests, incense bearers, monks, and
soldiers, Morin, the royal detective, with the traitor, slowly
and silently passed through the streets of the city. The
demonstration was ostensibly in honor of the "holy sacrament,"
an act of expiation for the insult put upon the mass by
the protesters. But beneath this pageant a deadly purpose was
concealed. On arriving opposite the house of a Lutheran, the
betrayer made a sign, but no word was uttered. The procession
halted, the house was entered, the family were dragged
forth and chained, and the terrible company went forward
in search of fresh victims. They "spared no house, great or
small, not even the colleges of the University of Paris. . . .
Morin made all the city quake. . . . It was a reign of terror."
-- Ibid., b. 4, ch. 10.
The victims were put to death with cruel torture, it being
specially ordered that the fire should be lowered in order to
prolong their agony. But they died as conquerors. Their
constancy were unshaken, their peace unclouded. Their
persecutors, powerless to move their inflexible firmness, felt
themselves defeated. "The scaffolds were distributed over all the
quarters of Paris, and the burnings followed on successive
days, the design being to spread the terror of heresy by
spreading the executions. The advantage, however, in the
end, remained with the gospel. All Paris was enabled to see
what kind of men the new opinions could produce. There
was no pulpit like the martyr's pile. The serene joy that
lighted up the faces of these men as they passed along . . .
to the place of execution, their heroism as they stood amid
the bitter flames, their meek forgiveness of injuries,
transformed, in instances not a few, anger into pity, and hate into
love, and pleaded with resistless eloquence in behalf of the
gospel."--Wylie, b. 13, ch. 20.
The priests, bent upon keeping the popular fury at its
height, circulated the most terrible accusations against the
Protestants. They were charged with plotting to massacre
the Catholics, to overthrow the government, and to murder
the king. Not a shadow of evidence could be produced in
support of the allegations. Yet these prophecies of evil were
to have a fulfillment; under far different circumstances,
however, and from causes of an opposite character. The
cruelties that were inflicted upon the innocent Protestants
by the Catholics accumulated in a weight of retribution, and
in after centuries wrought the very doom they had predicted
to be impending, upon the king, his government, and his
subjects; but it was brought about by infidels and by the
papists themselves. It was not the establishment, but the
suppression, of Protestantism, that, three hundred years later,
was to bring upon France these dire calamities.
Suspicion, distrust, and terror now pervaded all classes of
society. Amid the general alarm it was seen how deep a hold
the Lutheran teaching had gained upon the minds of men
who stood highest for education, influence, and excellence of
character. Positions of trust and honor were suddenly found
vacant. Artisans, printers, scholars, professors in the universities,
authors, and even courtiers, disappeared. Hundreds fled
from Paris, self-constituted exiles from their native land, in
many cases thus giving the first intimation that they favored
the reformed faith. The papists looked about them in amazement
at thought of the unsuspected heretics that had been
tolerated among them. Their rage spent itself upon the
multitudes of humbler victims who were within their power.
The prisons were crowded, and the very air seemed darkened
with the smoke of burning piles, kindled for the confessors
of the gospel.
Francis I had gloried in being a leader in the great
movement for the revival of learning which marked the opening
of the sixteenth century. He had delighted to gather at his
court men of letters from every country. To his love of
learning and his contempt for the ignorance and superstition
of the monks was due, in part at least, the degree of toleration
that had been granted to the reform. But, inspired with zeal
to stamp out heresy, this patron of learning issued an edict
declaring printing abolished all over France! Francis I
presents one among the many examples on record showing that
intellectual culture is not a safeguard against religious
intolerance and persecution.
France by a solemn and public ceremony was to commit
herself fully to the destruction of Protestantism. The priests
demanded that the affront offered to High Heaven in the
condemnation of the mass be expiated in blood, and that the
king, in behalf of his people, publicly give his sanction to the
The 21st of January, 1535, was fixed upon for the awful
ceremonial. The superstitious fears and bigoted hatred of the
whole nation had been roused. Paris was thronged with the
multitudes that from all the surrounding country crowded
her streets. The day was to be ushered in by a vast and
imposing procession. "The houses along the line of march were
hung with mourning drapery, and altars rose at intervals."
Before every door was a lighted torch in honor of the "holy
sacrament." Before daybreak the procession formed at the
palace of the king. "First came the banners and crosses of
the several parishes; next appeared the citizens, walking two
and two, and bearing torches." The four orders of friars
followed, each in its own peculiar dress. Then came a vast
collection of famous relics. Following these rode lordly
ecclesiastics in their purple and scarlet robes and jeweled
adornings, a gorgeous and glittering array.
"The host was carried by the bishop of Paris under a
magnificent canopy, . . . supported by four princes of the blood.
. . . After the host walked the king. . . . Francis I on that
day wore no crown, nor robe of state." With "head
uncovered, his eyes cast on the ground, and in his hand a lighted
taper," the king of France appeared "in the character of a
penitent."-- Ibid., b. 13, ch. 21. At every altar he bowed down
in humiliation, nor for the vices that defiled his soul, nor the
innocent blood that stained his hands, but for the deadly sin
of his subjects who had dared to condemn the mass. Following
him came the queen and the dignitaries of state, also
walking two and two, each with a lighted torch.
As a part of the services of the day the monarch himself
addressed the high officials of the kingdom in the great hall
of the bishop's palace. With a sorrowful countenance he
appeared before them and in words of moving eloquence
bewailed "the crime, the blasphemy, the day of sorrow and
disgrace," that had come upon the nation. And he called
upon every loyal subject to aid in the extirpation of the
pestilent heresy that threatened France with ruin. "As true,
messieurs, as I am your king," he said, "if I knew one of my
own limbs spotted or infected with this detestable rottenness,
I would give it you to cut off. . . . And further, if I saw one
of my children defiled by it, I would not spare him. . . . I
would deliver him up myself, and would sacrifice him to
God." Tears choked his utterance, and the whole assembly
wept, with one accord exclaiming: "We will live and die for
the Catholic religion!"--D'Aubigne, History of the Reformation
in Europe in the Time of Calvin, b. 4, ch. 12.
Terrible had become the darkness of the nation that had
rejected the light of truth. The grace "that bringeth salvation"
had appeared; but France, after beholding its power
and holiness, after thousands had been drawn by its divine
beauty, after cities and hamlets had been illuminated by its
radiance, had turned away, choosing darkness rather than
light. They had put from them the heavenly gift when it
was offered them. They had called evil good, and good evil,
till they had fallen victims to their willful self-deception.
Now, though they might actually believe that they were
doing God service in persecuting His people, yet their
sincerity did not render them guiltless. The light that would
have saved them from deception, from staining their souls
with bloodguiltiness, they had willfully rejected.
A solemn oath to extirpate heresy was taken in the great
cathedral where, nearly three centuries later, the Goddess of
Reason was to be enthroned by a nation that had forgotten
the living God. Again the procession formed, and the
representatives of France set out to begin the work which they had
sworn to do. "At short distances scaffolds had been erected,
on which certain Protestant Christians were to be burned
alive, and it was arranged that the fagots should be lighted
at the moment the king approached, and that the procession
should halt to witness the execution."--Wylie, b. 13, ch. 21.
The details of the tortures endured by these witnesses for
Christ are too harrowing for recital; but there was no wavering
on the part of the victims. On being urged to recant, one
answered: "I only believe in what the prophets and the
apostles formerly preached, and what all the company of
saints believed. My faith has a confidence in God which will
resist all the powers of hell."--D'Aubigne, History of the
Reformation in Europe in the Time of Calvin, b. 4, ch. 12.
Again and again the procession halted at the places of
torture. Upon reaching their starting point at the royal
palace, the crowd dispersed, and the king and the prelates
withdrew, well satisfied with the day's proceedings and
congratulating themselves that the work now begun would
be continued to the complete destruction of heresy.
The gospel of peace which France had rejected was to be
only too surely rooted out, and terrible would be the results.
On the 21st of January, 1793, two hundred and fifty-eight
years from the very day that fully committed France to the
persecution of the Reformers, another procession, with a far
different purpose, passed through the streets of Paris. "Again
the king was the chief figure; again there were tumult and
shouting; again there was heard the cry for more victims;
again there were black scaffolds; and again the scenes of the
day were closed by horrid executions; Louis XVI, struggling
hand to hand with his jailers and executioners, was dragged
forward to the block, and there held down by main force
till the ax had fallen, and his dissevered head rolled on the
scaffold."--Wylie, b. 13, ch. 21. Nor was the king the only
victim; near the same spot two thousand and eight hundred
human beings perished by the guillotine during the bloody
days of the Reign of Terror.
The Reformation had presented to the world an open
Bible, unsealing the precepts of the law of God and urging its
claims upon the consciences of the people. Infinite Love had
unfolded to men the statutes and principles of heaven. God
had said: "Keep therefore and do them; for this is your
wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations,
which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great
nation is a wise and understanding people." Deuteronomy
4:6. When France rejected the gift of heaven, she sowed the
seeds of anarchy and ruin; and the inevitable outworking of
cause and effect resulted in the Revolution and the Reign of
Long before the persecution excited by the placards, the
bold and ardent Farel had been forced to flee from the land
of his birth. He repaired to Switzerland, and by his labors,
seconding the work of Zwingli, he helped to turn the scale
in favor of the Reformation. His later years were to be spent
here, yet he continued to exert a decided influence upon the
reform in France. During the first years of his exile, his
efforts were especially directed to spreading the gospel in his
native country. He spent considerable time in preaching
among his countrymen near the frontier, where with tireless
vigilance he watched the conflict and aided by his words of
encouragement and counsel. With the assistance of other
exiles, the writings of the German Reformers were translated
into the French language and, together with the French
Bible, were printed in large quantities. By colporteurs these
works were sold extensively in France. They were furnished
to the colporteurs at a low price, and thus the profits of the
work enabled them to continue it.
Farel entered upon his work in Switzerland in the humble
guise of a schoolmaster. Repairing to a secluded parish, he
devoted himself to the instruction of children. Besides the
usual branches of learning, he cautiously introduced the
truths of the Bible, hoping through the children to reach
the parents. There were some who believed, but the priests
came forward to stop the work, and the superstitious country
people were roused to oppose it. "That cannot be the gospel
of Christ," urged the priest, "seeing the preaching of it does
not bring peace, but war."--Wylie, b. 14, ch. 3. Like the first
disciples, when persecuted in one city he fled to another.
From village to village, from city to city, he went, traveling
on foot, enduring hunger, cold, and weariness, and everywhere
in peril of his life. He preached in the market places,
in the churches, sometimes in the pulpits of the cathedrals.
Sometimes he found the church empty of hearers; at times
his preaching was interrupted by shouts and jeers; again he
was pulled violently out of the pulpit. More than once he was
set upon by the rabble and beaten almost to death. Yet he
pressed forward. Though often repulsed, with unwearying
persistence he returned to the attack; and, one after another,
he saw towns and cities which had been strongholds of
popery, opening their gates to the gospel. The little parish
where he had first labored soon accepted the reformed faith.
The cities of Morat and Neuchatel also renounced the Romish
rites and removed the idolatrous images from their churches.
Farel had long desired to plant the Protestant standard in
Geneva. If this city could be won, it would be a center for
the Reformation in France, in Switzerland, and in Italy.
With this object before him, he had continued his labors
until many of the surrounding towns and hamlets had been
gained. Then with a single companion he entered Geneva.
But only two sermons was he permitted to preach. The
priests, having vainly endeavored to secure his condemnation
by the civil authorities, summoned him before an ecclesiastical
council, to which they came with arms concealed under
their robes, determined to take his life. Outside the hall, a
furious mob, with clubs and swords, was gathered to make
sure of his death if he should succeed in escaping the council.
The presence of magistrates and an armed force, however,
saved him. Early next morning he was conducted, with his
companion, across the lake to a place of safety. Thus ended
his first effort to evangelize Geneva.
For the next trial a lowlier instrument was chosen--a
young man, so humble in appearance that he was coldly
treated even by the professed friends of reform. But what
could such a one do where Farel had been rejected? How
could one of little courage and experience withstand the
tempest before which the strongest and bravest had been forced
to flee? "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith
the Lord." Zechariah 4:6. "God hath chosen the weak things
of the world to confound the things which are mighty."
"Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the
weakness of God is stronger than men." 1 Corinthians 1:27, 25.
Froment began his work as a schoolmaster. The truths
which he taught the children at school they repeated at
their homes. Soon the parents came to hear the Bible
explained, until the schoolroom was filled with attentive listeners.
New Testaments and tracts were freely distributed, and
they reached many who dared not come openly to listen to
the new doctrines. After a time this laborer also was forced
to flee; but the truths he taught had taken hold upon the
minds of the people. The Reformation had been planted, and
it continued to strengthen and extend. The preachers
returned, and through their labors the Protestant worship was
finally established in Geneva.
The city had already declared for the Reformation when
Calvin, after various wanderings and vicissitudes, entered its
gates. Returning from a last visit to his birthplace, he was on
his way to Basel, when, finding the direct road occupied by
the armies of Charles V, he was forced to take the circuitous
route by Geneva.
In this visit Farel recognized the hand of God. Though
Geneva had accepted the reformed faith, yet a great work
remained to be accomplished here. It is not as communities
but as individuals that men are converted to God; the work
of regeneration must be wrought in the heart and conscience
by the power of the Holy Spirit, not by the decrees of councils.
While the people of Geneva had cast off the authority
of Rome, they were not so ready to renounce the vices that
had flourished under her rule. To establish here the pure
principles of the gospel and to prepare this people to fill
worthily the position to which Providence seemed calling
them were not light tasks.
Farel was confident that he had found in Calvin one
whom he could unite with himself in this work. In the
name of God he solemnly adjured the young evangelist to
remain and labor here. Calvin drew back in alarm. Timid
and peace-loving, he shrank from contact with the bold,
independent, and even violent spirit of the Genevese. The
feebleness of his health, together with his studious habits, led
him to seek retirement. Believing that by his pen he could
best serve the cause of reform, he desired to find a quiet
retreat for study, and there, through the press, instruct and
build up the churches. But Farel's solemn admonition came
to him as a call from Heaven, and he dared not refuse. It
seemed to him, he said, "that the hand of God was stretched
down from heaven, that it lay hold of him, and fixed him
irrevocably to the place he was so impatient to leave."--
D'Aubigne, History of the Reformation in Europe in the
Time of Calvin, b. 9, ch. 17.
At this time great perils surrounded the Protestant cause.
The anathemas of the pope thundered against Geneva, and
mighty nations threatened it with destruction. How was this
little city to resist the powerful hierarchy that had so often
forced kings and emperors to submission? How could it
stand against the armies of the world's great conquerors?
Throughout Christendom, Protestantism was menaced by
formidable foes. The first triumphs of the Reformation past,
Rome summoned new forces, hoping to accomplish its
destruction. At this time the order of the Jesuits was
created, the most cruel, unscrupulous, and powerful of all the
champions of popery. Cut off from earthly ties and human
interests, dead to the claims of natural affection, reason and
conscience wholly silenced, they knew no rule, no tie, but
that of their order, and no duty but to extend its power.
Appendix.) The gospel of Christ had enabled its adherents
to meet danger and endure suffering, undismayed by cold,
hunger, toil, and poverty, to uphold the banner of truth in
face of the rack, the dungeon, and the stake. To combat these
forces, Jesuitism inspired its followers with a fanaticism that
enabled them to endure like dangers, and to oppose to the
power of truth all the weapons of deception. There was no
crime too great for them to commit, no deception too base
for them to practice, no disguise too difficult for them to
assume. Vowed to perpetual poverty and humility, it was
their studied aim to secure wealth and power, to be devoted
to the overthrow of Protestantism, and the re-establishment
of the papal supremacy.
When appearing as members of their order, they wore a
garb of sanctity, visiting prisons and hospitals, ministering
to the sick and the poor, professing to have renounced the
world, and bearing the sacred name of Jesus, who went about
doing good. But under this blameless exterior the most
criminal and deadly purposes were often concealed. It was a
fundamental principle of the order that the end justifies the
means. By this code, lying, theft, perjury, assassination, were
not only pardonable but commendable, when they served
the interests of the church. Under various disguises the
Jesuits worked their way into offices of state, climbing up to be
the counselors of kings, and shaping the policy of nations.
They became servants to act as spies upon their masters.
They established colleges for the sons of princes and nobles,
and schools for the common people; and the children of
Protestant parents were drawn into an observance of popish
rites. All the outward pomp and display of the Romish
worship was brought to bear to confuse the mind and dazzle
and captivate the imagination, and thus the liberty for which
the fathers had toiled and bled was betrayed by the sons.
The Jesuits rapidly spread themselves over Europe, and
wherever they went, there followed a revival of popery.
To give them greater power, a bull was issued re-establishing
the inquisition. (See Appendix.) Notwithstanding the
general abhorrence with which it was regarded, even in
Catholic countries, this terrible tribunal was again set up
by popish rulers, and atrocities too terrible to bear the light
of day were repeated in its secret dungeons. In many
countries, thousands upon thousands of the very flower of the
nation, the purest and noblest, the most intellectual and
highly educated, pious and devoted pastors, industrious and
patriotic citizens, brilliant scholars, talented artists, skillful
artisans, were slain or forced to flee to other lands.
Such were the means which Rome had invoked to quench
the light of the Reformation, to withdraw from men the
Bible, and to restore the ignorance and superstition of the Dark
Ages. But under God's blessing and the labors of those noble
men whom He had raised up to succeed Luther, Protestantism
was not overthrown. Not to the favor or arms of princes
was it to owe its strength. The smallest countries, the
humblest and least powerful nations, became its strongholds.
It was little Geneva in the midst of mighty foes plotting her
destruction; it was Holland on her sandbanks by the northern
sea, wrestling against the tyranny of Spain, then the
greatest and most opulent of kingdoms; it was bleak, sterile
Sweden, that gained victories for the Reformation.
For nearly thirty years Calvin labored at Geneva, first to
establish there a church adhering to the morality of the
Bible, and then for the advancement of the Reformation
throughout Europe. His course as a public leader was not
faultless, nor were his doctrines free from error. But he was
instrumental in promulgating truths that were of special
importance in his time, in maintaining the principles of
Protestantism against the fast-returning tide of popery, and
in promoting in the reformed churches simplicity and purity
of life, in place of the pride and corruption fostered under
the Romish teaching.
From Geneva, publications and teachers went out to
spread the reformed doctrines. To this point the persecuted
of all lands looked for instruction, counsel, and encouragement.
The city of Calvin became a refuge for the hunted
Reformers of all Western Europe. Fleeing from the awful
tempests that continued for centuries, the fugitives came to
the gates of Geneva. Starving, wounded, bereft of home and
kindred, they were warmly welcomed and tenderly cared
for; and finding a home here, they blessed the city of their
adoption by their skill, their learning, and their piety. Many
who sought here a refuge returned to their own countries to
resist the tyranny of Rome. John Knox, the brave Scotch
Reformer, not a few of the English Puritans, the Protestants
of Holland and of Spain, and the Huguenots of France
carried from Geneva the torch of truth to lighten the
darkness of their native lands.
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