The sixteenth century, to which we have come in this study, witnessed the great Protestant Reformation. This was one of the most profound spiritual revolutions in the history of the world. It was wrought in the purpose and by the power of God. For centuries He had been making preparation for this great change in the spiritual and moral conditions that had developed under the papacy. His providences had created and assembled the conditions, factors, and forces that, when the hour struck, brought about this amazing revolution with apparent suddenness.
When the apostasy had developed to the union of church and state, there were protests and withdrawals by loyal leaders and churches, which have been reviewed in previous chapters. Witness Montanus, Novatian, Donatus, the Paulicians, Constantine of Armenia, Claude of the Albigenses, Waldo of the Waldenses, Wycliffe of England, Huss and Jerome of Bohemia. At the climax also were to appear Luther, Melanchthon, Zwingli, and their numerous associates. At no time in those fifteen centuries was the Saviour of men without true witnesses to the saving power of the gospel. These witnesses He used in all manner of ways in preparation for the mighty work wrought by Luther and other true men who had been raised up for the hour.
One who has made a special study of these tragic times bears convincing testimony in these meaningful words:
Amid the gloom that settled upon the earth during the long period of papal supremacy, the light of truth could not be wholly extinguished. In every age there were witnesses for God,men who cherished faith in Christ as the only mediator between God and man, who held the Bible as the only rule of life, and who hallowed the true Sabbath. How much the world owes to these men, posterity will never know. They were branded as heretics, their motives impugned, their characters maligned,
their writings suppressed, misrepresented, or mutilated. Yet they stood firm, and from age to age maintained their faith in its purity, as a sacred heritage for the generations to come.The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan, p. 61.
A careful study of the upright lives, the sound teaching, the safe guidance, the sacrificial spirit, of such outstanding characters, must profoundly impress those who believe in the doctrine of the providential shaping of destinies, that all along the way God was doing with these representatives far more than they understood.
Just what measure of spiritual illumination they received, it is impossible for us to know and declare. From our knowledge of the limitations and blindness of the minds of men at the present time, we cannot conceive how those leaders could see, and understand, and do as perfectly as they did without special guidance by the Holy Spirit. Perversion, darkness, and corruption were universal and supreme. Many of the spiritual leaders of the period sincerely believed that the Lord made Himself known to them in visions and spoke to them in dreams.
Many of God's servants and messengers in Old Testament times had similar experiences. Abraham's call to the land of Canaan, his journey to Egypt and back, his strange experience with Abimelech, king of Gerar, and many other providences must have been full of mystery to him. They could not be understood by themselves. But when they were all brought together in the central purpose of God to establish a model nation for Himself in this ruined world, they could be understood.
But although Abraham could not understand the meaning of these single, detached events as they came along one by one, he believed in God. He knew God had spoken to him. He obeyed by rendering prompt and full co-operation in carrying out the divine purpose. He wrote no prophecies. He worked no miracles. He made some mistakes. Yet of Abraham the Lord said, He is a prophet. Gen. 20:7.
So it was with leaders in succeeding generations. They were called men of God, seers, prophets. The brief and seemingly ordinary service of some would not lead us to count them as prophets, but for the direct statement of the word of God. Evidently they had communications from the Lord of which there is no mention. They were given messages, however, which led them to meet the purpose of God in the gospel. Not all were called to foretell events or to work miracles. To them were revealed the purposes of God not known to others. Their mission was to bear these messages to their fellow men.
John the Baptist was brought into the world to bear a new message to the human raceto herald the advent of the Son of God. He recognized God's purpose, he understood the mission of his very existence, and performed it exactly as God had planned. This is true greatness as God estimates greatness. The Saviour declared that there had been no greater prophet than John.
The great Reformation was in the purpose and plan of God. He allowed the apostasy to come, but He did not intend that it should forever fully eclipse the light of His glorious gospel. He did not intend that His light should shine no more, that the human race should end in the midnight blackness of papal ascendancy. Therefore, in His own time and way He visited men, spoke to them, illumined their minds, gave them messages to bear to their fellows, and inspired them to carry out His purposes and plans. Such a glorious company of messengers was raised up in the early part of the sixteenth century. Says Wylie:
One thing has struck all who have studied, with minds at once intelligent and reverent, the era of which we speak, and that is the contemporaneous appearance of so many men of great character and sublimest intellect at this epoch. No other age can show such a galaxy of illustrious names.The History of Protestantism, Vol. I, Book 8, chap. 1, p. 410.
All the great reformers built on the same foundation. All placed emphasis on the great fundamentals,the Christ, the Spirit, the word, the law, and the gospel, according to the Scriptures of truth.
The history of the post-Reformation times shows unquestioned evidence of the same imperative need of inspired leaders who had existed in the pre-Reformation centuries. The Reformation did not spring up in a day, nor was it finished in a day. The great events that took place between the nailing of Luther's propositions on the church door at Wittenberg in 1517, and the signing of the Augsburg Confession in 1530, were the climax, the consummation, of centuries of study, preaching, persecution, and martyrdom of godly men. The maintenance, the holding of what had been gained, and its fuller development, have required the same kind of men who, under God's inspired leadership, brought the Reformation to birth.
There was the same satanic effort to crush the Reformation that there had been to prevent it from coming to fruition. Forbiddings, summonings, excommunications, interdicts, imprisonments, hangings, and burnings were continued by the papists as long and as fiercely as it was possible wherever there were reformers. For a full century and more there was need of men of clear vision, divine leadings, and dauntless courage.
Just such men in large numbers were raised up by the Lord in Germany, England, France, Italy, Switzerland, Bohemia.indeed, in all nations where the Reformation took root.
It was in the providence of God that the princes of Germany were so entirely won to the Reformation, and were led at a critical moment to sign the Protestant Confession of Faith, thus declaring their faith and purpose to the Diet of Augsburg, and through it to all Christendom. Thus the Lord, who foresaw the dangers, had made full preparation to meet them. What joy would have filled the hearts of the forerunners of the reformatory movement if they could have foreseen all that took place at this Diet!
This great triumph of the reformers, including the German princes, was a profound surprise to the emperor, the pope, and the whole papal hierarchy. It filled them with serious apprehension regarding the future of this strange movement. In three
teststhe Diet of Worms, 1521; the Diet of Spires, 1526; and the Diet of Augsburg, 1530that mighty hierarchy had utterly failed to accomplish what it had convoked those three formidable councils to do; namely, to rid the world of so-called heretics, and end the agitation.
But Rome never acknowledges defeat; she never quits. The emperor, the cardinals, the bishops, and the Catholic priests left Augsburg to persecute more fiercely, to erect more scaffolds for hanging, and to light more fires for burning. In this they could and did succeed. The records are distressing and sickening. It seems impossible that human beings could mete out to other mortals such inhuman treatment.
It is appropriate to say again that the reformers during the post-Reformation years were in as great need of the divine Presence, of the guidance and instruction of the Holy Spirit, as were leaders in pre-Reformation times. It has been confidently declared by Christian writers and historians that the prophetic gift appeared among them at divers times and places.
As we examine the records of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the later Huguenots bring to mind the valiant exploits of the earlier persecuted Huguenots of France. We mark the renewal of the spirit of John Huss in the Moravian Church, together with the great Methodist awakening under the Wesleys. It is among such outstanding evangelical movements that we naturally look for the men and women through whom God could especially reveal Himself; and we are not disappointed in this field of study.
The derivation of the name Huguenot is somewhat uncertain. But it was used to designate the Protestants in France in the early part of the sixteenth century.
The Protestant Reformation began in France about the time that Luther started his work of reformation in Germany. That we may have a proper background for later prophetic tracings, let us return to the beginning of the century.
In the year 1512, Jacobus Faber published a volume on the doctrine of righteousness by faith as against righteousness by works. Eight years later, in 1523, appeared his French translation of the New Testament, thus placing that part of the word of God in the homes of the common people, in a language they could understand. This resulted in many conversions to the new teaching. Without delay, persecution was set on foot by the papacy. As early as 1525, five Protestant martyrs were burned at the stake. These were the first of multiplied thousands martyred during the two centuries following.
In January, 1535, an edict was published ordering the extermination of all these heretics of the Reformation. While many of these godly Protestants left France for other countries, many remained to hold aloft the torch of truth. The Reformation lived and grew despite the persecutions. Indeed, before the close of the century it was claimed that the Protestants or Huguenots formed one tenth of the population of France.
Describing the transformation following this rise of the Huguenots, Lawrence speaks of the city of Meaux, where the New Testament was published:
A swift and graceful transformation passed over the busy town. No profane word was any longer uttered, no ribaldry nor coarse jests were heard. Drunkenness and disorder disappeared; vice hid in the monastery or the cloister. In every factory the Gospels were read as a message from above, and the voice of prayer and thanksgiving mingled with the clamor of the shuttle and clash of the anvil. The rude and boisterous artisans were converted into refined and gentle believers, ever seeking for the pure and the true; and the sudden impulse toward a higher life awakened at Meaux by the teachings of Farel and Lefèvre stirred, like an electric shock, every portion of diseased and decaying France. A moment of regeneration seemed near, a season of wonderful advance.Historical Studies, Eugene Lawrence, pp. 250, 251.
By contrast, the blighting course of Rome and her priests, and their false visions to discount the true when they appeared, are graphically pictured:
There now began a remarkable contest between the Romish Church and the Biblebetween the printers and the popes. For many centuries the Scriptures had been hidden in a dead language, guarded by the anathemas of the priests from the public eye, and so costly in manuscript form as to be accessible only to the wealthy. A Bible cost as much as a landed estate; the greatest universities, the richest monasteries, could scarcely purchase a single copy. Its language and its doctrines had long been forgotten by the people, and in their place the intellect of the Middle Ages had been fed upon extravagant legends and monkish visions, the fancies of idle priests, the fables of the unscrupulous. The wonders worked by a favorite image, the virtues of a relic, the dreams of a dull abbot or a fanatical monk, had supplanted the modest teachings of Peter and the narrative of Luke. Men saw before them only the imposing fabric of the Church of Rome, claiming supremacy over the conscience and the reason, pardoning sins, determining doctrines, and had long ceased to remember that there was a Redeemer, a Bible, even a God. A practical atheism followed. The pope was often a skeptic, except as to his own right to rule.Id., pp. 254, 255.
On April 13, 1598, there was promulgated what was known as the Edict of Nantes,a charter of religious and political freedom. But this charter was never respected by the Roman Catholics. Nameless persecutions continued until revocation of that edict, October 18, 1685. Terrible were the experiences of the heroic Protestants that followed this revocation. All this is the setting for tracings of the true prophetic gift.
In his account of subsequent experiences relating to the gift of prophecy, which are of deep interest, Baird says:
The Huguenots remaining in France in the last years of the seventeenth century underwent the most startling change of fortunes. They were robbed by their king of the privilege of professing a religion which, whatever that king had been led by misrepresentation to believe to the contrary, they ardently loved. Their public worship in the use of the Holy Scriptures, the familiar forms of Calvin's liturgy, and the no less familiar psalms of Clément Marot and Theodore Beza, was silenced, Their spiritual leaders were in exile. Their temples, or sacred edifices, from one end of France to the other, had been razed to the ground: the
ruins stared them in the face and daily reminded them of the happier hours of the past, as often as they walked through the town or suburb. Regret was rendered more poignant in the case of many by the pangs of wounded conscience.
Men and women could not forgive themselves who in a moment of weakness, but not infrequently under a pressure of persecution which it is difficult for us to estimate, had made an insincere profession of another religion. To such no word of exhortation to repentance or of comfort came from living man or woman, save possibly from some layman in a secret and proscribed conventicle. Books of devotion and particularly the Bible, were all that remained; and of the Bible those portions seemed most appropriate to their condition, and were most eagerly read, that treat of the mysterious realm of prophecy and under figurative terms hold forth promises of the future overthrow of the wicked and the ultimate triumph of the cause of the oppressed.The Huguenots and the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, Henry M. Baird, Vol. II, p. 180. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1895.
Then this authority, after recounting certain supernatural manifestations, leads us to the point of our search:
More important and at once more permanent and far more intimately affecting the interests of Protestantism in its approaching efforts to rise into newness of life, was the appearance in the southeastern part of France of a number of persons, former adherents of the Reformed faith, who claimed the possession of an extraordinary gift of prophecy from heaven. The origin of the movement is obscure and uncertain.
A Protestant, M. Caladon, of Aulas, whose words are so much the more interesting as his account bears the impress of unusual impartiality, expresses himself in very similar terms: I have seen a great number of these inspired persons, he remarks, of every age and of both sexes. They were all people without malice, in whom I perceived nothing that I could suspect of being their invention. They made very beautiful exhortations, speaking French during the revelation, some better, some worse. It should be remarked that it is as hard for the peasants of those regions to discourse in French as it would be for a Frenchman who had just landed in England to speak English.Id., pp. 183, 187, 188.
The salutary effect of the rise of prophecy is next set forth by this author. Its effect upon the flickering flame of Protestantism should be duly noted.
The immediate effect of the rise of prophecy was a quickening of religious life. The dormant masses were startled from their torpor by the rumor and by the sight of a strange and incomprehensible movement . In the entire destitution of an ordained ministry, the prophets believed themselves to have been raised up by an extraordinary call, laymen though they were, to fill the gap and perform many of the functions of the former pastors . They kept alive the flickering flame of Protestantism in the region of the Cévennes, at a time when it seemed about to be quenched.Id, p. 190.
It is most significant that the Roman Catholic adversaries of the Huguenots of the period do not deny the facts of which they themselves were witnesses many times; only they attribute the phenomena to Satan.
We do not suggest that all the experiences recounted of the
Huguenots are to be explained as manifestations of the spirit of prophecy. It
would be strange, indeed, if with the gentle exercise of the gift there should
not also be many cases of fraud or fanaticismas that is the way Satan
always works. But that there were genuine manifestations of the gift through
men and women of God's own calling and direction, seems established to the open