The French Reformed Churches (3)
Written by Gerald Procee
|Reformed Worldviews - The Hand of God in History|
Continued from here.
The French Reformed churches have had a tremendous impact on churches and societies around the globe. To their hallmark belong upholding the authority of Scripture, adhering to the Reformed creeds, and promoting industriousness and democracy. This third article continues to relate the fierce persecution these churches underwent and concludes with some lessons we may learn from affliction and persecution.
Persecution Under King Louis XIV (1638-1715)
The fiercest persecutions came under the reign of King Louis XIV (1638-1715). This tyrant wanted to cleanse France from all religions except the Roman Catholic religion. He thought that he could clear himself from God’s judgment if he would kill Reformed believers. He efficiently sent soldiers and men of the cavalry into their homes. The soldier would smash everything in the homes and demand food and money. The inhabitants had no choice but to leave everything and flee for their life or be forced to become Roman Catholic. Just a few words spoken and a simple signature, and the soldiers would leave. Hundreds of thousands could not stand this pressure and recanted. Churches were closed and broken down. Streams of refugees fled France to other countries. Most went to England, while some went to Holland and Denmark. In Amsterdam one thousand homes were built for the French Reformed believers.
The heroic faith of a famous Huguenot minister, Claude Brousson, stands out during the years of Louis XIV’s persecutions. After he was captured he was transported by boat through the waterways of France. At a certain time during the night, while Brousson was on deck and his captors were out of sight, the helmsman steered the vessel close to the riverbank and told Brousson he could jump ship. Brousson refused to do so, for he said: J’ai donné ma parole (I have given my word) not to flee if I would be allowed to walk freely on deck. He was tried in the southern French city of Montpellier, where the people never forgot what happened. An eyewitness states: “... 20 soldiers were beating their drums until the execution was over. I cannot describe to you with which persistence and dedication he went to the execution. It seemed as if he was going to a feast. His eyes were continually raised up to heaven, so that it seemed he did not see or notice anything or anyone. All broke out in tears when they saw this great man of faith pass by.” Ten thousand people watched as he was put to death on November 6, 1698. Claude Brousson died singing the 34th Psalm while his body was broken upon the wheel.
How Could the Huguenots Endure Suffering?
The French Huguenots suffered much for the cause of Christ. How could they endure such terrible suffering? How could they continue to patiently endure?
Pierre du Moulin, a French 17th century minister, gives some answers in a booklet he wrote, entitled “The Christian combat during times of affliction” (from the Dutch: “De Christelijke strijd). In it he states that we ought to realize that all Christians will be afflicted in one way or another.
He gives three reasons why there must be afflictions. In the first place there will be afflictions because of the wisdom and righteousness of God who leads His people to follow the footsteps of Christ, who suffered. Christ is our Head and what happens to the Head must also happen to the members. To our comfort we may know that those who share in the sufferings of Christ will also share in His glories.
In the second place, the world we live in is under the dominion of the devil and is at enmity with Christ and His Church. The wicked are like thistles that feel at home in this world. But every god-fearing person is like a plant taken from a strange country that has a hard time growing in this hostile environment. The country where God’s people are persecuted can be compared to a body possessed of an evil spirit. When Christ, through the preaching of His Word, cast out the demon-possessed Gadarene, it tore his body. Similarly, our country is torn by civil war.
In the third place, afflictions are necessary for the church because of errors that easily creep in during times of prosperity and freedom. It is at such times that Christian piety declines and people become self-complacent. Therefore the Lord gives periods of affliction to purge His people and to cause His church to become more devoted to Him.
The Blessed Fruits of Suffering
Pierre du Moulin continued to explain in his booklet that there are blessed fruits attached to suffering and afflictions. By means of suffering the Lord cleanses His church, removing hypocrites. He expels those who love themselves and their ease more than the Lord. He also strengthens His children in the faith precisely through the sufferings they are going through. They become aware of the deceits of the devil and will be more engaged in prayer to ask the Lord for strength under afflictions. Through afflictions the Lord causes His children to bring forth more fruit, as John 5:2 teaches: “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” They bring forth fruits of patience, love, sorrow for sin, and a close walk with the Lord. They are weaned from earthly and carnal pleasures. Their faith in the Lord is strengthened.
The Lord also gives various comforts to His suffering people in their afflictions:
2. The example of the prophets and the apostles. Many of God’s people were martyred in the Old and New Testament. At times God honours His children by incorporating them into His suffering. Do not be amazed when you are slandered, hated and reviled for no apparent reason. They did this to the prophets and to the early Christians.
3. Realize that your reward shall be great, yes, very great in heaven. “Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matt. 5:12). When they kill you, realize that they are causing you to live forever. When they cause you to weep, the Lord Jesus dries your tears. “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). To the extent your afflictions increase, the Lord will also increase His comforts to you. He will let you feel His hidden strength to bear all your hardships. Remember that the future glories are forever and realize how insignificant this life is in comparison to the eternal glories that await in heaven. “I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness” (Ps. 17:15).
He promised to never leave or forsake us. He promised to be with His children to the end of the world. The Lord will not put to shame those who trust in His Word. Never be afraid that the church will be wiped off the face of the earth. That can never happen because the world exists only for the church. The Lord will continually revive His church.
Rejoice In Afflictions and Fight Against Indwelling Sin
The Lord works joy in the heart. The fear of the Lord does not prosper in a downcast mind. We should not feed ourselves with depressing thoughts. We should not despise the goodness of the Lord. After God has humbled us on account of our sins, He also by faith, lifts us up again. He comforts us with His precious promises and with the hope of His full salvation and the prospect of being conformed to the image of Christ. It is not right when we are more sorrowful about a conflict that is waged against us than that we rejoice in the salvation of the Lord. Above all, we must have joy in the Lord.
How can we remain standing under the weight of severe afflictions and persecutions? Pierre du Moulin says that we can only do that when we daily fight against indwelling sin. We should turn away from sin and resist sin. Neither should we be ashamed of our faith before people. Certainly, we should not fear people. They can do nothing unless the Lord allows them. We should realize from what terrible heresies and lies we have been delivered. We should persevere in prayer, for only by prayer can we stand in the evil day. Christ’s church ought not be ashamed of the Lord.
The Lord Sustains Believers
That was also the reality of the suffering Reformed Church of France. The Lord sustained the believers, either to persevere to the end, or He granted them grace to flee to neighbouring countries. Also today there are those who are suffering severe persecution. We think of Christ’s church in North Korea, Eritrea, Sudan, China, Pakistan, Nigeria, and other Muslim nations. Let us remember God’s people in their difficult circumstances and pray for them, realizing and be thankful for our great advantages and privileges.
We can still benefit from Moulin’s writings of many years ago. We need to have love for Christ. We need to have a new heart wrought in us to enable us to hate all manner of sin and fight against it. We also need boldness not to be ashamed of His testimony. This all needs to be done with “all prayer and supplication.” The Huguenots could do nothing without Christ. We may feel weak in the struggles that befall us, but through prayer the Holy Spirit will strengthen and teach us self-denial and faithfulness to make us willing to live and to die in the one and only comfort that we belong to Christ Jesus. That gives a true perspective on eternal life in glory with Christ. This was the perspective of the French Reformed Churches.
Dr. Gerald Procee is the pastor of the Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Middelharnis, NL. This article was printed in the FRC Messenger and is repubished here with permission.