The Genevan Reformer and His Huguenot Sons
A Contribution to the John Calvin Quincentenary 1509-2009
Alan C. Clifford
Pbk 168 pages Price: £9.95
From the Introduction
Born at Noyon in Picardy, John Calvin (1509-64) is generally regarded as the most eminent of the Protestant reformers of the sixteenth century. Exiled from his native France, he became a pastor of the Church of Geneva and the organizing genius of the Protestant Reformation. While his Christ-exalting influence as a theologian, preacher and commentator became--and remains--truly international, Calvin’s labours were particularly fruitful in France. His spirituality also found expression in the Confession of Faith and presbyterian Discipline of the French Reformed churches drawn up at the first National Synod held at Paris in 1559. Through the zealous evangelistic labours of pastors trained in Geneva, around 2,000 churches had been founded by 1560. Yet Huguenot piety was to be constantly tested through nearly three centuries of fierce persecution including the terrible St Bartholomew massacre of August 24, 1572. Cruelly harassed by the Roman Church, the noble army of French Reformed martyrs never failed to demonstrate the grace, electing love and faithfulness of the living God. Thus John Calvin’s Bible-based, God-honouring legacy was constantly vindicated in the most inspiring epic of faith and fortitude ever known.
In the reign of Henri IV, the Edict of Nantes (1598) provided a fragile and frequently violated peace. Directed by the Jesuits, the Roman Church pursued a policy of cruel extermination. This tolerant Edict was finally revoked by the despotic Louis XIV in 1685. Huguenot temples were demolished and the flocks were scattered. The faithful worshipped in woods and caves and other remote places; their assemblies were known as the ‘churches of the desert’. Those captured by the dragoons were punished. Pastors, elders and others were either hanged or sent to the galleys. The women were sent to prison and the children re-educated in Jesuit schools. Many emigrated to Holland, Germany, Great Britain and elsewhere. The frustrations and sufferings of those who remained led to the tragic Camisard war of 1702-9. But God did not forsake his covenant people. Under the inspired leadership of Antoine Court (1696-1760) and Paul Rabaut (1718-94), there was an amazing revival of the Reformed churches, beginning in the remote southern province of Languedoc.
The persecutions gradually eased. The last Huguenot galley slaves were released in 1775. At last, with public opinion beginning to change, the Edict of Toleration was granted in 1787 on the eve of the French Revolution. The diabolical tyranny of the Vatican-backed French monarchs received its just reward in the terror and bloodshed of the revolution (1789). It was a miracle that French Protestantism ever survived. Yet, in the midst of indescribable suffering, the testimony of the Huguenot pastors and people alike was unshaken. In their faithful witness to our Lord Jesus Christ, the assurance of the psalmist was theirs too: ‘Blessed be the Lord, who daily loads us with benefits, even the God of our salvation... O God, You are terrible out of Your holy places: the God of Israel is he that gives strength and power unto his people. Blessed be God’ (Psalm 68: 19, 35).
While Calvin’s life and achievements are well known, the events and personalities of the French Reformation are mostly unknown, at least to the general Christian public. This is unfortunate since Calvin’s influence on later generations of French Protestants is a truly fascinating and inspiring story. In addition to the main chapter on Calvin, the outlines of five eminent Huguenot pastors - not to ignore a little-known ‘English son’ - are presented to raise the profile of these and other servants of Christ whose dedicated labours for the Gospel deserve to be better known. In days of unparallelled apostasy and confusion within the professing Church, these Huguenot heroes challenge us to greater faithfulness and dedication to the cause of Christ. If this quincentenary celebration contributes to that end then the author’s enthusiasm for his subject will have been justified.
SOLI DEO GLORIA