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
In Switzerland, as in
Germany, there came dark days for the Reformation. While many cantons accepted the
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
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
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,
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 6:5. 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.
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 in sincerity.
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 controversy.
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
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
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 thereof.
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 truth.
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
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 dreadful work.
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
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
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
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
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,
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 Terror.
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
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
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?
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. 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
To give them greater power, a
bull was issued re-establishing the inquisition. 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.