The Bible and the French Revolution
By Pastor Hal Mayer
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France was on the cusp of great advance. Her industries were about to grow, her economy was ready to expand; her people were on the verge of great intellectual development. The Reformation had provided France with the opportunity to change the course of history by putting the reformed principles to work on her behalf. But something happened that would prevent France for achieving great heights; something terrible; something dark and devastating; something that is being repeated today in many, many nations. This will be our study today as we explore the times in which we live in light of history. Your understanding of this important chapter in history will help you understand our prophetic times better than ever.
But before we begin, let us pray. Our Father in heaven, it is with thankfulness that we come to You today and ask for Your Holy Spirit to enlighten us. Reveal to us lessons for our times, and give us a sense of Your presence. Show us how to live and how not to live so that we may reflect the true principles of heaven in our lives. We realize that our society is changing. And we see how Bible prophecy is being fulfilled. So, open the windows of heaven and pour out a blessing to us as we consider our topic today. In Jesus’ name, amen.
The Bible has always been at the center of the controversy between Christ and Satan. All throughout history Satan has tried to obscure the Bible because he knows it has power to save a lost soul from sin and eternal destruction. He is determined to do everything he can to distract men from reading it, even if he has to burn them at the stake or torture them in a dungeon. His cruelty knows no bounds. Even if you are not a Christian, he is your dangerous foe.
The reason why Satan hates the Bible so much is because the Bible reveals the will of Christ and shows the way of salvation. It is also the message of Christ to His church. But most of all, the Enemy hates the Bible because it exposes his deceptive devices. Satan’s enmity to Christ is deadly and is carried out, if possible, upon Christ’s followers. He wants to sweep the whole world into his destructive power. We need the Bible if we are going to survive his assaults, both in our daily lives and during the final crisis.
There is an account in history of the disastrous results that happened when a nation rejects the Bible. That nation is France. And it is important that we understand the history of France as a prophetic insight into what the world will be like just before Jesus comes again. I hope your mind will be expanded today as we consider the implications for our own times.
Listen to this statement from the book Education, page 227 and 228. “Spiritualism asserts that men are unfallen demigods that “each mind will judge itself;” that “true knowledge places men above all law;” that “all sins committed are innocent;” for “whatever is, is right,” and “God doth not condemn…” Thus it declares to all men, “It matters not what you do; live as you please, heaven is your home.” Multitudes are thus led to believe that desire is the highest law, that license is liberty, and that man is accountable only to himself…”
“At the same time anarchy is seeking to sweep away all law, not only divine, but human. The centralizing of wealth and power; the vast combinations for the enriching of the few at the expense of the many; the combinations of the poorer classes for the defense of their interests and claims; the spirit of unrest, of riot and bloodshed; the world-wide dissemination of the same teachings that led to the French Revolution—all are tending to involve the whole world in a struggle similar to that which convulsed France.”
Did you hear that list? Do we have all those things today? For instance, do we see the centralizing of wealth and power? We sure do. Consolidation of huge businesses is just one example. Even though there is so-called “competition,” only a few giant corporations control most of the resources in a given sector of the economy. And this gives them enormous power. Also, central banks are using an engineered economic crisis to increase and consolidate wealth and power into the hands of a few, and they are stripping the majority of wealth by the devaluation of money. Yet another example is the stock markets, which enrich a few at the expense of the many. And the list goes on and on.
Is there a spirit of unrest, of riot and bloodshed? What about the riots in Greece, Britain and Spain in recent times? What about the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East? Riot and bloodshed are everywhere.
What about the world-wide dissemination of the same teachings that led to the French Revolution? Do we have these? Yes, we do. The teaching goes like this; you can do as you please. You are your own judge of right and wrong. God doesn’t matter anymore. You don’t need Him anyway. This idea is everywhere, my friends. The French Revolution was a result of all these issues and more, and led to anarchy and ruin. Our world is headed in the same direction. It is as if the history of France leading up to the Revolution is very similar to what is happening today. So, let us consider the history of France in light of this prophetic statement and see if we can more clearly understand where our world is headed.
During the Protestant Reformation even before Luther began to denounce the pope, there was a very learned but humble professor in the university in Paris that was teaching the principles of the gospel to his students. His name was Lefevre. He once said of the cross of Christ, “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.
Lefevre made quite an impact on his students, many of whom were converted to Christ and the gospel. One of them was William Farel. Farel was an ardent follower of the pope and was very zealous to defend the Catholic faith. He first rejected the gospel, but as is often the case, he could not find peace in his soul. His sins plagued him until he finally read the Bible, and there he found Christ and found Him as his personal Savior.
My friends, the Bible will change your life. If you want to love God, study the Bible. If you want your sins forgiven, study the Bible. If you want salvation, study the Bible. If you want to live forever, study the Bible. That’s not all of course. You must surrender to the love of Christ presented in the Bible. You must give yourself to Him and let Him change your heart.
William Farel became as zealous in proclaiming Christ as he had been to defend the pope. Wherever he went he won converts to the gospel. He was also successful helping a number of high-ranking professors at the university find Christ, and who joined him in proclaiming the truth. Skilled craftsmen, common laborers heard the gospel for the first time, and many of them rejoiced in the light of the word of God. The Bible was starting to transform the lives of the people, which if unhindered would transform the life of the nation. Even the sister of Francis I, the king, accepted the reformed message.
Rome hid the Bible from the people. They hungered and thirsted for its heavenly message, but instead Rome gave them crusts that could not satisfy. Those who heard the gospel were like a weary traveler who has come upon a spring of cool fresh water. And their joy knew no bounds.
One of Farel’s early converts to the gospel was the Bishop of Meaux, William Briconnet. This man was a dignitary of the church, but did much to bring the gospel to the common people, the peasants. He also corrected much corruption by removing evil priests and correcting abuses. Lefevre had undertaken the translation of the New Testament of the Holy Scriptures into French and had them published in Meaux. This was around the same time that the Lutheran New Testament was coming off the presses in Wittenberg. The Bishop, Briconnet, was very effective in distributing the Bibles throughout his parishes so that the people could have the Bible in their own hands. This, of course, was a great sin in the eyes of the hierarchy. The Roman Catholic hierarchy eventually discovered that the Bishop was on the side of the Gospel.
It wasn’t long before they determined to silence their Bishop one way or another. After all, if they cannot control their own leaders, how can they expect to keep the rest of society under their management? Eventually, Briconnet was forced to choose between renunciation of the Protestant faith and the stake. Sadly, he chose renunciation. His people however, were more convicted than he was. Many of them gave their lives in the flames. This spread the interest in the Bible around France.
Then a noble arose who was made of sterner stuff. Louis de Berquin first loved the Church, but when he was providentially led to the Bible and to Jesus, he became a strong defender of the reformed doctrine. He was politically connected and did much to spread the gospel in France. But the church was determined to silence him too. They put pressure on the king, Frances I.
As danger mounted, Berquin received a letter from the famous and learned, but timeserving Erasmus, “Ask to be sent as ambassador to some foreign country;” he wrote. “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.” Great Controversy, page 216
This kind of counsel did not impress Berquin. So, far from accepting this compromising counsel, he redoubled his efforts and more boldly proclaimed the gospel. After many intriguing twists and turns Berquin was executed and burned at the stake too. These losses were hard on the Reformation, but served to increase the conviction of others and spread the teachings of the Bible far and wide.
When Berquin was executed, William Farel left Meaux and went to his home. There he preached the truth in the surrounding areas. A great persecution arose in Meaux and this scattered many others as well, only to spread the light of truth further afield.
And while all these things were going on in France, God was raising up another weapon in his arsenal in Paris. John Calvin had come to study theology at the University and was showing great promise as a defender of the Catholic Church. He was a strong papist and wanted nothing to do with the doctrines of the reformed faith. He even felt that the reformers deserved the fires in which they were consumed.
But God had a plan for Calvin and He knew how to reach him. Calvin had a cousin whose name was Olivetan, a Waldense, who eventually translated the Bible into French for the Waldensian people.
Olivetan, like all Waldensian youth, was sent as a missionary to infiltrate universities and wherever possible spread the gospel. He was in Paris for a while and met with his cousin Calvin. Naturally, the religious disturbances of the day came into their discussions.
One day Olivetan made this poignant remark to Calvin. “There are but two religions in the world,” he said. “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?” History of Protestantism, J. A. Wylie, book 13, chapter 7, See also, Great Controversy, page 220
But Calvin’s strong reaction only served to make him think about Olivetan’s remark. The more he tried to get rid of it, the more it bothered him. Conviction of sin came upon him and his darkness deepened. He tried to do penance, and obey all the requirements of the church, but it did not help.
One day, while in great despair, he saw a protestant being burned at the stake in the public square and was amazed at the peace on his face as the flames consumed him, especially when he compared it to the despair and darkness in his soul. He knew that the heretics rested their faith on the Bible. So, he determined to read it for himself. There he found a loving Jesus and was drawn to surrender his heart to Christ. Now instead of defending the Catholic Church, he taught the gospel from home to home in Paris. He continued his work quietly. God was preparing him to do a more prominent work at a later time. But eventually suspicion fell upon him too. As officers were coming to arrest him for heresy at the front door, Calvin escaped out a back window, and fled Paris, only to spread the gospel in the countryside.
But one unwise event changed the course of the Reformation in France. As the king was wavering between Catholic and Protestant loyalties, some Protestants, anxious to keep up with the Reformation in Germany and other places, decided to put posters up all over Paris in one night. One of the posters was attached to the door of the king’s bedroom. It is not known whether a friend or a foe of the Reformation placed it there.
But it didn’t matter. The papists took advantage of it. Claiming that the reformed doctrines would cause the breakdown of all society, they urged the king to oppose the Reformation. The king sided with the papists, and this eventually led to the horrible St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre. In one night thousands of Protestants were cut down in cold blood in Paris. The ruthless cruelty went on for three months and spread throughout the country. Printers, authors, scholars, professors, craftsmen and even some of the nobility suddenly disappeared. Many homes were empty. Rome stripped France of its brightest minds, its best craftsman, and its most productive workers.
Calvin eventually left France, and upon the suggestion of William Farel who was now living in Geneva, he made the Swiss city his home and center of labor. But France now had little reformed influence. The papists rejoiced. But unhappy France was to feel the curse of its rejection of the Bible and its influence on society.
The consequences of the St. Bartholomew’ Day massacre were incredible. It not only removed the Protestants by slaughter or by exile, it also removed the influence of the Bible upon society. While papists rejoiced at the bloodshed, and the pope struck a medal to commemorate the cruelty, France was now to suffer the dramatic consequences of rejecting the Holy Scriptures, to its whole society. Everything suffered because of the rejection of God’s word.
Francis I had been responsible for promoting the revival of learning in France. He loved intellectual achievement. The Reformation involved an intellectual argument that Frances was pleased to see. This was one of the reasons why he tolerated the reform. He liked the intellectual challenge that the Bible of the reformers brought to France, particularly against Roman Catholic dogma and especially those indolent monks. Perhaps he liked to watch their discomfort at the exposure of their ignorance, a kind of sport.
But the fanatical zeal of the papists overruled his desire for freedom in the intellectual marketplace. Because Frances sided with the papists who put a lot of political pressure on him, an intellectual dullness descended upon France. The noblest minds had either been murdered or were in exile in other lands. France had been on the verge of great advancement in learning. It could have been one of the leaders in knowledge and wisdom. But by turning her back on the Bible of the Protestants, now she was to be thrust back into the darkness.
There is another lesson here. Intellectual enlightenment does not protect society against fanaticism, intolerance and persecution. In our day of great light and intellectual achievement, we are not safe from emotional manipulation and fanaticism any more than France was. Under pressure of a crisis, people can easily be reigned up and manipulated to do things they would otherwise never do.
Also see Great Controversy, Chapter on the French Reformation.
Because of the Bible and the intellectual enlightenment, France was in a position to benefit economically. The Bible would have improved the economy as it did in other reformed countries. But now France would not be permitted to take advantage of this.
But there are many other consequences as well. Think about the effect of the great Reformation on the nations that accepted it. The greatest work of the Protestant Reformation was not the boldness or bravery of the reformers, as important as that was. The greatest work of the Reformation was the delivery of the Bible into the hands of the common people in their own language. This horrified Rome and it made Rome react with greater violence. In the reformed countries, having the Bible in the hands of the common people in their own language brought a powerful sea change to all of society.
Many of the common people, or peasants, were uneducated and could not read or understand the Bible. However, once they saw the possibility of being able to read the holy word of God for themselves, they were greatly motivated to go back to school, night school that is, and learn to read. Night schools in Protestant countries became very important as more and more people, young and old, sought to understand the Bible.
As the people learned to read, this greatly improved their intellectual ability. Now they could think more effectively, and as they understood the teachings of God’s word, they realized that what they were being taught by the priests was error. And horror of horrors, now they could question the teachings of the priests of Rome. This naturally made the priests uncomfortable. After all many of them were ignorant of the scriptures and merely parroted the papal dogmas. But while the priests felt threatened by the teachings of scripture, they had no idea that God had started a process, which would overthrow the great papal throne in the hearts of the people.
Greater intellectual capabilities did many things for the people in Protestant countries. They could read other books and develop their intellect further. They could invent labor-saving devices that would increase productivity. The new efficiencies gave them more time for family, or time to work on ways to improve their lives.
The improved productivity strengthened the economy both for individual families as well as nationally. The improving conditions gave rise to a middle class, which eventually overthrew the feudal system that had been dominated by the rulers and the Roman Catholic Church. And it was the Bible that had started it all. Rome’s historical plan has always been to replace the Bible with superstition; to replace biblical economic principles with papal economic principles. Rome’s plan was to keep the people in ignorance of the scriptures and thereby create a social economy that would keep them in poverty and hardship.
But think about the economic consequence a little more. Up until the Reformation, there were mainly two classes of people; the rich and the poor. Oppression was everywhere. The rich oppressed the poor and the poor hated the rich. The rich, which included the clergy, had everything coming to them because of the way society was organized, and therefore they had no motivation to invest their resources in the productivity of society in general.
The poor, on the other hand, used all their time and energy to eek out a living, put clothes on their bodies, food on their tables and a roof over their heads. That was all they had. And often that was insufficient. The feudal economy was therefore stagnant in most places. But the introduction of the Bible and the rise of the middle class in reformed nations changed all that. The middle class, by definition, has more money than what they need for the basic necessities of life. This means that they can use it to improve their conditions, or invest in further education, or inventions, or in business, and therefore increase their wealth even more.
The rise of the middle class as a result of the introduction of the Bible into society began to increase the wealth of the people in the Protestant nations, and therefore it provided the people with greater motivation, greater productivity and greater independence. Eventually this led to freedoms of all kinds.
The Reformation created a synergy and an economic power that made Protestant nations less dependent on Rome and capable of creating and exercising their own policies, both domestic and foreign without Rome’s meddling. It also opened up new channels of trade and commerce. Travel became easier because of inventions. So did communications. Compared to today this was all still quite primitive. But back then it was a huge advance.
Just think about the invention of the printing press for a minute. The printing press dramatically changed communication. Instead of being limited to word of mouth or hand-written communication, now there could be books and newspapers, and other materials that would keep the common people informed of current events and ideas, both political and religious. This captured the attention of the people. Now they could engage in the political life of the Protestant nations. And the teaching of the Bible began to influence the political life of these nations. While the truth does not need or desire political support, it nevertheless influences the political nature of society if the people live by its precepts. The only way the people would have the Bible in their homes and hearts was through the printing press, which, by this time, had made printing cheaper and more readily available to the common people. Now everyone could afford a Bible almost.
The Protestant Reformation also satisfied a great hunger in the hearts of the people for meaningful and personal spiritual engagement. The Roman Catholic system was built on the concept of the religious ritual, which the priests taught was the basis of their salvation. Only if the person participated in the ritual could he be saved. The system was driven by the fear that if you didn’t take part in the ritual you would be lost. In this system, love was stripped out of faith and in its place was put the fear of an avenging God.
Do you think many people think this way today? Most people want a religion that does not require more than a weekly “ritual.” Go to church, listen to the sermon and go home. They repeat this week after week. Even most Protestants believe that so long as they go to church regularly, and so long as they support it with their tithes and offerings, they will be saved.
But the Reformation Protestants taught that salvation comes as a result of a heart relationship with Christ. This meant that people were emotionally bonded to God by love, not by fear. A huge change began to take place in the hearts of the people. They were now free of the thralldom and bondage of Rome. Now they could explore new ideas, experiment with new inventions, and improve their lot in life. Families became more stable. Business improved. The economy flourished. Great light shown upon them and they rejoiced in the consequences of its brilliance.
All this the Bible accomplished in reformed nations. It even changed the way people thought about themselves and their property. Now they kept their homes and gardens clean and well maintained. Now they respected the property of other people. The dullness and intellectual lethargy of the medieval era was replaced with enthusiasm and challenge. Their hearts were filled with interest in a life that now had meaning and purpose. They now had a reason for existence. They had a work to do
But France would partake of none of this. She was to lose her connection to the Reformation. While the other northern European nations rejoiced in the light of God’s truth, France languished in medieval darkness. On the verge of great advancement in intellectual enlightenment, industrial development, economic transformation, social stability and true liberty, France was to lose her opportunity. While Protestant nations were experiencing the first thrills of freedom, France was again shackled and dragged back into the morass of medieval superstition and moral decay.
From the book Great Controversy, page 229, we read the following, “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, [France] 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.”
“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.” GC p. 230
The corruption of the priests led to moral corruption of society, for the people are going to rise no higher than their leaders. The standard of piety was very low indeed. Licentiousness, vice and crime increased rapidly in France, while at the same time, it was decreasing in Protestant countries.
The Inquisition continued its work of creating social upheaval. Wherever possible the light of freedom was snuffed out. The Inquisition was responsible for making even members of the same family fear each other. Under the Inquisition, the mere suspicion of heresy was enough to have the accused declared guilty, and he would be punished according to his depth of repentance. An underlying fear gripped the souls of even the nicest and most benign people. This kind of social instability always leads to social disorder.
At the very time when other nations were rebuilding and strengthening their societies, France was suffering under a heavy yoke, lugging a load of emotional and economic baggage through history that would weigh it down until finally it snapped in a revolution that almost destroyed the very nation of France itself.
A dramatic social change took place after the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre. The loss of the brightest minds of the French citizenry weighted heavily on the productivity and economy of the nation. There was a decline in the availability of products and services that had been provided by those who had been murdered or fled. There was also a decline in the quality of goods produced by less capable craftsmen. Life in general began to decay.
The loss of the Huguenots and other Protestants in France left the nation without resources to strengthen itself for economic competition with other nations like Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands. Moreover, the Inquisition debilitated business, trade and commerce. Goods and services were subject to inspection and confiscation. The Inquisition ruled the economy as well as the people. So the national economy suffered greatly and it left France far behind the other northern European nations.
Another source of economic destabilization was the extortion practiced by the Catholic Church. By fear and superstition Rome extracted much money from the people who were futilely hoping to buy their souls out of purgatory. This cost them much money with nothing in return, money they could have used to improve their circumstances or develop the nation.
There was also decline in French agriculture. Many of the rural farmers were the very ones who had been slaughtered or exiled. Their once fertile and productive farmlands lay in waste and were overgrown with weeds. Their homes were empty and decaying for lack of maintenance. This circumstance meant that there would be food shortages. What food was available was either of poor quality, or expensive, or both. Imports were almost non-existent except around border areas because of the lack of transportation to ship bulk food for longer distances. New inventions in tools and equipment were not as readily available as they were in Protestant countries because of the inability to invent them.
All of these things led to economic depression. Poverty fell upon Paris and other places as more and more people became paupers and required the support of the government. Paris was one huge welfare city. There were still only two classes of society, the rich and the poor and this brought on a lot of social ills including crimes like theft, assault and robbery, violence and other crimes. Paris became an example of what happens when the majority of the nation is in extreme poverty and destitution. The middle class that was developing in other reformed nations and was building their economies did not develop in France during that era.
Listen to what the book Great Controversy has to say about the economy of this period. “With the flight of the Huguenots a general decline settled upon France. Flourishing manufacturing cities fell into decay; fertile districts returned to their native wildness; intellectual dullness and moral declension succeeded a period of unwonted progress. Paris became one vast almshouse, and it is estimated that, at the breaking out of the Revolution, two hundred thousand paupers claimed charity from the hands of the king.” That’s from page 279.
At the beginning of the Reformation, France was on the verge of freedom and liberty in the light of the gospel. Personal rights and freedoms would have come to France like they did in other nations had she accepted the Bible and allowed it to do its work. Instead of an increase in personal rights and liberties, France lost her opportunity and her people remained in slavery to their rulers both national and spiritual. The feudal system flourished under these circumstances.
The court system was corrupt. Bribes were easy to proffer, and judges found ways to make decisions that they knew would benefit themselves or their friends. Judges also had a vested interest in protecting the church. The justice system was organized in such a way to favor the rich and suppress the poor. So, the people lost all confidence in the justice system. After all, they could all see clearly that it wasn’t just at all. At the very time when reformed nations were improving their courts and systems of justice, France slid back into her medieval ways.
For 158 years these conditions were like a drug on the French people. They were in a stupor. But underneath the surface there was a growing desperation and exasperation that made the people long to get out from under the oppression of both church and state. Gradually, they began to realize that neither the political order nor the religious order was helping them. Eventually, they came to understand that the Church was controlling them against their best interests. It was like a leach sucking money out of them and providing little if anything in return.
Shortly after the beginning of the Reformation the order of the Jesuits came to France. Throughout all of Christendom, Protestantism was menaced by this foe. The Jesuits were “the most cruel, unscrupulous, and powerful of all the champions of popery,” says Great Controversy, page 234. “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.”
Do you think that the Jesuits today are still dedicated to this purpose? I’m sure they are. And they have been largely successful in destroying Protestantism. All you have to do is read what they themselves write. On their own websites, for instance, they glory in the fact that leaders of nations and regions of the earth, like the European Union are led by men that they have trained and who espouse their goals as we have previously documented.
I’ll continue reading from Great Controversy. “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… The Jesuits rapidly spread themselves over Europe, and wherever they went, there followed a revival of popery.” Great Controversy, page 235
As the Jesuits infiltrated France and began their despotic work, France came under even more diabolic and debilitating circumstances. Great Controversy, page 279, provides one powerful insight into their work in France. “The Jesuits alone flourished in the decaying nation, and ruled with dreadful tyranny over churches and schools, the prisons and the galleys.” The Jesuits re-established the Inquisition in France under the authority of a formal papal proclamation empowering its terrible tribunal. The Jesuits made sure that they did everything they could to stamp out what they termed “heresy” in France. The people and nation were forced into groveling subservience to the church. This meant that the Bible had no place in the life of the nation.
This state of affairs went on for more than 150 years after France fully committed herself to persecute the Reformers. On the 21st of January, 1793, the Revolution broke out in France.
“The war against the Bible, carried forward for so many centuries in France, culminated in the scenes of the Revolution. That terrible outbreaking was but the legitimate result of Rome’s suppression of the Scriptures… It presented the most striking illustration which the world has ever witnessed of the working out of the papal policy— an illustration of the results to which for more than a thousand years the teaching of the Roman Church had been tending.” Great Controversy, pages 265, 266
For centuries, truth and error struggled for the mastery in France. And the ultimate victor was error as the Bible was removed from society. This process ended in anarchy.
The French Revolution was actually foretold in scripture. Revelation 11:3-11 speaks of the work of the two witnesses, the Old and the New Testaments. “And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth.”
This is referring to the 1260 years of papal dominance during the dark ages. They were in sackcloth because this was the time of persecution of the faithful followers of Jesus who lived according to the instructions of the Bible. They gave their testimony through the ministry of those like the Waldenses.
Verse 7, 8. “And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them. And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.”
This is referring to what happened in France and in particular Paris at the time of the Revolution, in which the Bible was banned, and atheism overtook the nation. Sodom represents licentiousness, and Egypt represents atheism.
“And they of the people and kindreds and tongues and nations shall see their dead bodies three days and an half, and shall not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves. And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth. And after three days and an half the Spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them.”
This is referring to the time when the Bible was again tolerated after three and a half years of ruthless and bloody revolution.
Let us think about the conditions at the time of the revolution in light of our times today.
The Roman Catholic priests were corrupt as many of them are today. This calls to mind the clerical sex scandals that have erupted all over the world, Vatican banking scandals that have been publically revealed in the last year or two and recent Vatican attempts to seek more global power. All of these reveal that the nature of the Papacy hasn’t changed.
Prior to the French Revolution, the clergy were in control of the government and manipulated it in support the Catholic Church and clergy in France. Recent papal encyclicals and pronouncements make it very clear that the papacy aims to achieve this kind of relationship to the nations on a global scale. Over the last 50 years, at least three popes have called for the global economy to be put under the control of a small group of individuals who have moral and ethical power. This can only be the Papacy itself. It cannot merely be a political entity. These popes have been asking for nothing less than control of the global economy. They know, of course, that by gaining control of the global economy they will also gain control of global political order as well.
But conditions in France at the time of the revolution are very similar to what is happening in many nations today.
In the most destitute segments of the population, there was hunger and malnutrition. Do we have this problem in destitute segments of the world today?
Morality was also at an all-time low. Listen to this account from the book Great Controversy, page 270. “France presented also the characteristics which especially distinguished Sodom. During the Revolution there was manifest a state of moral debasement and corruption similar to that which brought destruction upon the cities of the plain.”
In France, homosexuality was rampant. Licentiousness, adultery, and other forms of immorality were given free license. Society offered no restraint in carrying out lustful desires whenever and with whomever one chose. The family came under attack in the intervening years after the persecution and flight of the Protestants. No doubt there was pressure on the government to legalize gay marriage. Like ancient Sodom, which gloried in sexual revolution, France set the example at the beginning of the modern world of what happens when a nation rejects the moral principles given in the Bible.
Marriage itself was reduced from a lifetime commitment to merely a passing relationship of little more consequence than a business agreement. In fact, laws were made that made marriage merely a contract that could be cast aside at will. Marriage was ridiculed; society gloried in alternatives to marriage. One famous person said marriage was as a “sacrament of adultery.”
Sir Walter Scott in his book on Napoleon and the Revolution in France makes the following comment. “Intimately connected with these laws affecting religion, was that which reduced the union of marriage—the most sacred engagement which human beings can form, and the permanence of which leads most strongly to the consolidation of society—to the state of a mere civil contract of a transitory character, which any two persons might engage in and cast loose at pleasure… If fiends had set themselves to work to discover a mode of most effectually destroying whatever is venerable, graceful, or permanent in domestic life, and of obtaining at the same time an assurance that the mischief which it was their object to create should be perpetuated from one generation to another, they could not have invented a more effectual plan than the degradation of marriage…” Sir Walter Scott, Life of Napoleon, vol. 1, ch. 17.
Also in pre-revolutionary France there was a strong feminist movement, especially in Paris, demanding gender equality in an increasingly chaotic and violent society. Women activists boldly advocated for equal status with men, the right to bear arms and serve in the military, political rights and voting privileges. A society was formed to promote women’s rights. While their cause may have had its commendable qualities, the feminist movement, as it often does, went beyond Bible order and was another contributing factor to the great social disruption.
There was also a serious problem with food supply due to failing agriculture. After several years of poor grain harvests food shortages became common. This led to dramatically increased prices for food, especially of bread.
This will happen today if current droughts in large food growing areas of the world persist. Today, in many countries, there have been great increases in recent years of those citizens who depend on government handouts to buy food from week to week. This puts a lot of financial stress on the economy and on its citizens.
Near the end of the 18th century, France was effectively bankrupt after a sequence of two costly wars. France’s inefficient financial system was unable to finance the debt, and the nation was using a grossly inequitable system of taxation.
The lower classes felt that the government was indifferent to the hardships and needs of the lower classes. King Louis XVI tried to make some reforms and reduce government expense, but he was opposed in parlements which made it impossible to carry them out. Political gridlock was partly responsible for driving the nation into the Revolution.
Louis’ opponents often criticized his government publically in an exaggerated light, and this stirred up public opinion against the government. Does that sound familiar?
The people resented the absolute rulership of the king and the privileges possessed by the nobility. They also resented the Catholic Church’s influence over public policy and public institutions, and wanted freedom of religion. The people were tired of civil oppression and wanted equality in economics and in politics. Matters were quickly reaching a boiling point.
But a financial crisis is often the tipping point. Louis XVI had ascended to the thrown after his father Louis XV had almost bankrupted the nation. Government expenses far exceed income. Louis XV had refused to do anything about the financial crisis and is reported to have once famously said, “After me, the deluge.” The elder Louis’ irresponsible behavior left France to the upheavals of the Revolution under his son.
Various tax proposals; especially to tax the rich were put forward, including nobles and clergy. None of them really succeeded because of political opposition of one sort or another. The political turmoil over the tax proposals also weakened the monarchy.
France was in a terrible state. The people were frustrated with the government and the government was frustrated with the people. Exasperation was becoming explosive.
At the beginning of the Revolution the king changed the political order by giving the people more voting power than the nobles and clergy combined. The people now had the balance of power, and they were unprepared to use it wisely. Eventually, in 1793, Louis XVI was accused of treason for conspiring with an enemy to keep himself on the throne and was executed by guillotine. Other rulers and nobles were executed also. Now, the tables were turned and the oppressed now became the oppressor with a vengeance that knew no bounds. Blood flowed freely. When the restraints of God’s law are cast aside, the laws of men will not hold human passion in check.
During the Reign of Terror, no one was secure. Peace could be found in no place. The leaders of one day, were suspected, condemned and executed the next. Violence and lust held undisputed sway. Vengeance became the motivation for the deaths of tens of thousands. And the cities of France were filled with horrible scenes of contending masses, vying for pre-eminence and power. The whole civilization was almost extinguished in the general maelstrom.
When the control of the government fell into the hands of Maximilien Robespierre, the leader of the Jacobins, the reign of terror began. The constitution was repudiated and up to 40,000 people died by guillotine without trial or due process. Others were mowed down by grape shot, or put on barges with holes in them and sunk, drowning their victims. This was their version of extra judicial killing. Revolts erupted in many places and the general chaos led to further political instability.
Atheistic powers that gained control of France caused a massive shift of power from the Catholic Church to the state. Catholicism was denigrated in public. Laws were enacted restricting her power to forcefully collect tithes from the people, confiscating church property, making priests employees of the state and denying the pope’s authority over France. Church property became the backing for the new currency in support of the state. Civil festivals replaced religious ones.
The clergy were required to sign an oath of loyalty to the Revolution, forcing them to choose between the Revolution and the pope. Only 24% of the 130,000 clergy signed the oath, and the rest were exiled, were forcefully deported or executed as traitors.
In 1789 and 1790 laws were passed that banned monastic vows. All religious orders were dissolved. Churches and religious images were destroyed throughout France. During the Reign of Terror strong efforts to remove Catholicism from society led to the massacre of many clergy.
In the place of the church was installed a new religion. Now reason was exalted as the new deity. The worship of reason or of the mind is self-centered. One’s own mind became the only guide for what was right and wrong leading to chaos, conflict and bloodshed.
Listen to what is says in Great Controversy, page 274. “The fear of God was said to be so far from the beginning of wisdom that it was the beginning of folly. All religious worship was prohibited except that of liberty and the country.” A Roman Catholic Bishop publically renounced the Catholic faith and admitted that it was a scandalous farce.
A ceremony was conducted in the legislative assembly in which a veiled woman was revealed and worshipped as the goddess of reason.
Not long afterward there was a public burning of the Bible. On one occasion a half burned Bible was carried on top of a pole and proclaimed the cause of all the “fooleries” which the human race had committed.
It was the Papacy that had begun the work which atheism was completing. The policy of Rome had created the conditions, social, political, and religious, that was quickly taking France on to ruin. The Revolution and all its horrors were caused by the church, which had suppressed the Bible and persecuted its followers. Rome had poisoned the minds of kings and rulers against the Reformation, and now, the Revolution turned its vengeance on the ones who were the cause of it all.
Rome had claimed that the Protestant faith would destroy social order as well as religion, and that it would disrupt monarchial rule. But little did the rulers of France see the results of this argument. The teaching of the Bible would have protected France, balanced it and brought it liberty and prosperity. The people would not have overthrown true Christianity, only its apostate form. But instead France was awash in blood because of her rejection of the scriptures.
Rome does not change. Her principles are still the same. In the name of promoting justice and peace, Rome is trying to destroy the nations and bring them into servitude to her own control. All you have to do is read the encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI called “Caritas Inveritate” which openly explains the goal of Rome to control the economy of the world. Rome knows that this will also lead to the subjugation of all nations to her dominance.
The principles of the French Revolution are also being played out in today’s world. The fatal error which brought woe on the citizens of France was to ignore one great truth; that true freedom is only gained when the law of God is followed. Those who refuse to learn this lesson from the Bible will have to learn it in the history of nations.
Rome is seeking to bring the nations back under her rule just like she did during the dark ages. Your life must be brought into harmony with Christ if you want to remain true to the Bible. Go back to the Bible and study its principles. They will refine and ennoble your life, give you discernment, and provide confidence in the future. Your eternal destiny depends on it.
France lost her opportunity to prosper under the principles of the Bible and of the Reformation. Her history is a lesson to us who are living in the last days when secularism and unbridled iniquity abounds. Her record opens before us the necessity of the Bible’s influence on society through the lives of its followers. When Christ rules in your heart, you will bring those principles to bear in your life, in your family and in society. As society becomes more secular, more controlled by globalist forces, more chaotic and godless, the Master, Jesus Christ is calling on those who are loyal to His word to reveal His grace and power to those around them.
Also see The Great Controversy, Chapter on the French Revolution.
Let us pray. Our Father in Heaven, thank You for the Bible which guides our lives in all things, and reveals to us the righteousness of heaven, and offers to transform us by the washing of regeneration through the Bible. Help us to see our place in this world of sin and chaos. May Your love motivate us to live for Jesus and counteract the evil forces in this world that are resurrecting the principles of the French Revolution. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.