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A Half Century of Bible Suppression in France
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“The entrance of thy word giveth light, it giveth understanding to the simple. Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.”-David.
An American citizen does not need to go to far-off India or Africa to learn how people live without the Bible. Every heathen nation, living in ignorance and degradation furnishes a practical illustration. This illustration may be found by visiting the countries on the other side of the southern boundary line of the United States, where for several centuries under dominant catholic influence the Bible has been a forbidden book in the few public educational institutions of the country. The result may now be seen in the general prevalence of ignorance, poverty and oppression; the ownership of land limited to a comparatively few persons, corruption and rapacity on the part of public officials, general improvement checked and the country impoverished by frequent insurrections and revolutions, that indicate incapacity for stable and prosperous self-government.
France, however, once made the actual experiment of suppressing the Bible and Bible readers for two centuries, during the period from 1572 to 1795, while the Reformation of the 16th century was progressing in Germany, Switzerland, Britain and other countries.
Thomas Carlyle, in his history of the French Revolution, that occurred 1788 to 1795, has very dramatically portrayed scenes and incidents, which become pregnant with new and thrilling interest, when briefly summarized to illustrate the folly and sad consequences of suppressing the Bible and Bible readers in that nation. The historic value of these incidents should make this story interesting and instructive to every student and teacher.
Louis XV, king of France, at the end of a reign of fifty-nine years, dies unwept and unmourned in 1774. Affirming there is no God or heaven, at the beginning of his long reign, and not permitting any of his courtiers to mention the word “death” in his presence, he abandons himself to a life of forbidden pleasure, humiliates and scandalizes the people of France instead of enlightening and elevating them. He inherits and maintains the tyrannous and oppressive feudal system that prevents the common people from acquiring ownership of land. His career has been described, “as an hideous abortion and mistake of nature, the use and meaning of which is not yet known.” The persecution of Bible readers, or Protestants, is begun with a general massacre at Paris, on the anniversary of Saint Bartholomew in 1572. Those who escape the bloody horrors of that occasion, are commanded to emigrate from France, on pain of death. The following events occur, during the latter part of the last half century, preceding the French Revolution.
The leaders in thought are the shameless and selfish infidels and deists, Voltaire, Rosseau, Robespierre and others like them. Paris admires her deistical authors and makes them the objects of hero-worship.
They are called “Philosophs,” and Bible readers must not stand in their way. Philosophism sits joyful in glittering saloons, is the pride of nobles and promises a coming millennium. Crushing and scattering the last elements of the Protestant Reformation, they blindly and falsely talk of a Reformed France. The people applaud, instead of suppressing these false teachers. The highest dignitaries of the Church waltz with quack-prophets, pick pockets and public women. The invisible world of Satan is displayed and the smoke of its torment goes up continually. No provision is made for the general education of the common people and yet the government is fast becoming bankrupt.
In 1774 Louis XVI succeeds his father, as the last King of France. He is youthful, uneducated, imbecile. He is wedded to a giddy superficial queen. Both are infidels and incapable of any intelligent acts of government. With imbecility and credulity on the throne, corruption continues to prevail among high and low. Instead of individual thrift and general prosperity, poverty and famine prevail throughout the land.
In 1775, impelled by a scarcity of bread, a vast multitude from the surrounding country gather around the royal palace at Versailles, their great number, sallow faces and squalid appearance indicating widespread wretchedness and want. Their appeal for royal assistance is plainly written, in “legible hieroglyphics in their winged raggedness.”
The young king appears on the balcony and they are permitted to see his face. If he does not read their written appeal, he sees it in their pitiable condition. The response of the king is an order, that two of them be hanged. The rest are sent back to their miserable hovels with a warning not to give the king any more trouble.
Mirabeau, a French writer, describes a similar scene that occurs later that same year. “The savages descending in torrents from the mountains our people are ordered not to go out. The bagpipes begin to play, but the dance in a quarter of an hour is interrupted by a battle. The cries of children and infirm persons incite them, as the rabble does when dogs fight. The men, like frightful wild animals, are clad in coarse woolen jackets with large girdles of leather studded with copper nails. Their gigantic stature is heightened by high wooden clogs. Their faces are haggard and covered with long greasy hair. The upper part of their visage waxes pale, while the lower distorts itself into a cruel laugh, or the appearance of a ferocious impatience.”
These proceedings are a protest of the common people, of whom there are twenty millions, against government by blind-man’s-buff. These people, paying their taxes, are protesting against corrupt officials depriving them of their salt and sugar, in order to maintain royal and official extravagance. Stumbling too far prepares the way for a general overturn.
There is no visible government. Its principal representative is the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or king’s treasurer; and “Deficit of revenue” is his constant announcement, to the feudal lords, who exercise local government. In 1787 Cardinal Lomenie becomes the king’s new treasurer. His predecessor has been ousted because the treasury was bankrupt, but his unscrupulous methods continue to be adopted because no better ones can be devised. As late as the next year the cardinal demands the infliction of the death penalty on all Protestant preachers.
The period has become one of spiritual and moral bankruptcy. The Bible has been suppressed and blind human reason has been exalted. There is no bond of morality to hold the people together. Men become slaves of their lusts and appetites, and society, a mass of sensuality, rascality and falsehood. Infidelity, despotism and general bankruptcy prevail every where. There is no royal authority and the palace of justice at Versailles is closed.
The poverty and misery, experienced by the peasants in their comfortless hovels, awakens a feeling of discontent and protest. This feeling of protest, among the poor and illiterate, permeates upward and becomes more intense as it proceeds. In this unorganized protest the hand of one is arrayed against his fellow man. The common people are arrayed against the nobles; the nobles, against each other, and both nobles and people are bitter against the government. Townships are arrayed against townships and towns against towns. Gibbets are erected everywhere and a dozen wretched bodies may be seen hanging in a row. The mayor of Vaison is buried alive; the mayor of Etampes, defending a supply of food, is trampled to death by a mob exasperated with hunger, and the mayor of Saint Denis is hung at Lanterne. The ripening grain is left ungathered in the fields, and the fruit of the vineyards is trodden under foot. The bloody cruelty of universal madness prevails everywhere.
A frightful hail storm, that destroys the grain and fruits of the year at the beginning of harvest, is followed by a severe drought in 1788. Foulon, an official grown gray in treachery and iniquity, when asked,
“What will the people do?” makes response,
“The people may eat grass.”
The royal government is now described, as existing only for its own benefit; without right, except possession; and now also without might. “It foresees nothing, and has no purpose, except to maintain its own existence. It is wholly a vortex in which vain counsels, falsehoods, intrigues and imbecilities whirl like withered rubbish in the meeting of the winds.”
Commerce of all kinds, as far as possible, has come to a dead pause, and the hand of the industrious is idle. Many of the people subsist on meal-husks and boiled grass. Armed Brigands begin to make their appearance and a “reign of terror,” is ushered in.
On May 4, 1789, the first popular assembly meets at Versailles, more Churches than other buildings having been used as polling places, at this first election in France. The assembly is composed of nobles, clergy and commoners, the last representing the people.
Six “parlements,” consisting only of nobles, have previously been convened by the king’s treasurer, and as often have been dismissed by the king, because they were not willing to tax themselves more, to increase the revenues of the king. In this assembly, there are six hundred commoners, who, when the king dismissed the assembly, under the leadership of Mirabeau refused to be dismissed, and bind themselves by an oath, to remain in session, until they have framed and adopted a constitution.
This act of the commoners is the beginning of the French Revolution. This Revolution has been defined, as “An open, violent rebellion and victory of unimprisoned anarchy, against corrupt worn-out authority; breaking prison, raging uncontrollable and enveloping a world in fever frenzy, until the mad forces are made to work toward their object, as sane and regulated ones.”
These commoners are shut out of their hall and their signatures are attached to their oath in a tennis court. They are later joined by Lafayette, the friend of Washington, and by other nobles and 149 Roman clergy. They are treated offensively, but cannot be offended. They are animated with a desire to prepare a constitution that will regenerate France, abolish the old order and usher in a new one.
Paris, always very demonstrative under excitement, grows wild with enthusiasm for the commoners, and others, who compose their first National Assembly. They go simmering and dancing, thinking they are shaking off something old and advancing to something new. They have hope in their hearts, the hope of an unutterable universal golden age, and nothing but freedom, equality and brotherhood on their lips. Their hopes, however, are based on nothing but the “vapory vagaries of unenlightened human reason,” instead of the unchanging truths and principles of Divine Revelation. They experience an indescribable terror, of the unnumbered hordes of Europe rallying against them, in addition to the constant dread of their own cruel, armed brigands and inhuman official executioners.
Unfortunately the commoners had not been previously trained in the art of statesmanship, and after a long session, that lasted until September 14, 1791, the constitution then proposed was still incomplete; and had to be submitted to another assembly to be completed. They however accomplish some things worthy of note. In 1789 they abolish feudalism, root and branch; and the payment of tithes. The latter meant the separation of Church and state, in matters of support and government; and this event seemed to the deists, like a time of Pentecost.
On Sept. 22, 1792 the Republic of France is declared. On Jan. 1, 1793, King Louis XVI, who had become a runaway king, and on October 16th following, Marie Antoinette, the queen, are executed. These events are followed by another reign of terror, the plundering of Churches and a war with Spain.
The Republic of France, when first established, proves to be one of a mob, robbing and murdering those, who had property. The people become despotic as soon as they have disposed of their useless king, and queen. There were only nine prisoners in the Bastille, when it was destroyed, but now in two days and under the name of liberty, eight thousand innocent persons are massacred in prison. Walter Scott in his Life of Napoleon adds: “Three hundred thousand other persons, one third of whom are women, are ruthlessly committed to prison,” the executioners usurping the place of the judges and, without trial, pronouncing sentence against them.” Their watchwords, while the Revolution continues, are, “Unity, Brotherhood or Death.” These principles are enforced by edicts of exile, imprisonment, or death by the guillotine.
This reign of terror continues until July 28, 1794, when the cruel hearted Robespierre and his consorts are condemned to death on the guillotine, a cunningly devised beheading machine, on which he had been practicing with innocent and helpless victims, for twenty-two years.
In 1795 a new constitution is adopted, and after the suppression of a number of bloody riots and insurrections that year, by the young Napoleon with his batteries of artillery, public order is restored and the Revolution is regarded as ended.
These are but a few of the many riotous and disorderly events that occurred in France just at the close of the American Revolution, in which Lafayette co-operated with so much honor to himself and his country. These suffice to show how unprepared the people were for any great or concerted movement, and how destitute the nation was of men, fit to serve as leaders in thought and action, until the rise of Napoleon with his genius for military affairs. Mirabeau, their first trusted leader, dies before the end of their first assembly. Lafayette, a prominent member of the first assembly, when made military commander at Paris, finds the rabble will not listen to his counsels, and he resigns. In 1782 he makes another attempt to re-instate authority in Paris, and the attempt proving a failure he retires from further participation in public affairs.
No one is able to anticipate the next movement of the populace, or win and hold their confidence, any length of time. One event follows another “explosively.” Men, fearing to remain longer in their huts or homes, fugitively rush with wives and children, they know not whither. Under the leadership of the infidels, Rosseau and Robespierre, they experience terrors such as had not fallen on any nation, since the fall of Jerusalem.
An insurrection of women is suddenly started in Paris, in October 1789, at the call of a young woman who seizes a drum and cries aloud, “Descend O Mothers; Descend ye Judiths to food and revenge!” Ten thousand women, quickly responding to this call, press through the military guard to the armory in Hotel de Ville, and when supplied with arms march on foot to Versailles, and, taking the king and his family captives, bring them and the National Assembly to Paris the next day, October 5th, followed by a good natured crowd, estimated at 200,000. Now that the king occupies the palace of the Tuileries at Paris, the people hungry, but hopeful, shake hands in the happiest mood, and assure one another “the New Era has been born.”
The principal results of the French Revolution may be briefly summarized as follows:
Good riddance of a half century line, of worse than useless, atheistic kings and queens; the suppression of the tyrannous feudal system, that prevented the common people from acquiring ownership of land, the suppression of the Bastille, a feudal prison and robber den, and of the guillotine; the suppression of religious persecution, and the separation of Church and state in matters of government and support; and the adoption of a constitution, that provides for the people to have a voice, in the management of the affairs of the government.
France is the land that gave birth and education to John Calvin, the pioneer advocate of civil and religious liberty, and in his day the good work of the Reformers had gained an encouraging foot hold in his native land, but after the lapse of a century of cruel extermination, one looks in vain to see the expected fruits of his great work. A century, of Bible suppression and persecution of Bible readers, has left the people in ignorance of the Word of God, which is the Light and Life of the World, and in its place Catholicism and infidelity, like hoar frosts or destructive black clouds, have spread over the land. Oppressed with a feeling of need and seeking something not clearly defined, the people grope in darkness and stumble on events, as if playing blind-man’s-buff. The one hundred and forty-nine Roman clergy in the first assembly are so lacking in intelligence and patriotism, they exert no special influence worthy of note.
Very different were the scenes that Lafayette witnessed, during the period he co-operated with the colonies of America, in their struggles for liberty and independence. Here he met many of the descendants of the very people, whom the bitter persecutions in France had driven to this country. Many of them, as early settlers in New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Virginia, exerted a considerable influence, in molding the character of the American people. He found all the people engaging intelligently in the cause of freedom. Their leaders knew what they were endeavoring to achieve, and every movement was characterized by good order, patriotism and superior wisdom.
This historic contrast of the good fruits of the open Bible among the people in America, with the sad and deplorable results of Romanism and infidelity in France, previous to the great revolutions, that occurred in both countries in the days of Lafayette, is certainly very interesting and instructive.
Other countries in which Romanism has been dominant and the Bible suppressed, as Ireland, Spain, Mexico, the Philippine Islands and the states of Central and South America, show a similar unfavorable contrast. In South America, where Romanism has suppressed the Bible for centuries, only two percent of all the college students in 1913, according to Bishop Kensolving of the Episcopal Church in Brazil, “affirm their allegiance to any religious faith.”
In Spain, according to a recent issue of the Herald of Madrid, there are 30,000 towns and rural villages that are yet without schools of any kind. There are thousands of the people whose homes can be reached only by bridle-paths. They lack schools, roads and railroads. Seventy-six per cent of the children and youth are unable to read and write. In Spain, Mexico and South America, Romanism has proven itself to be, but little more than a pious form of paganism, an oppressive and widespread relic of ancient, pagan Rome.
During the two hundred years preceding the Revolution in France no one was ever persecuted for being an atheist, deist, infidel or Roman catholic, but all of these united in suppressing the general use of the Bible and the presence of Bible readers, to the great injury of the public welfare. If that country had not foolishly and wickedly exterminated the people, that were fast becoming Bible readers at the time of the Reformation, it would no doubt have been saved from many of the blind and bloody scenes of the period of the Revolution.
Romanism, by suppressing the Bible, encourages ignorance, superstition and bigotry. It also tends to break down the sanctity of the Sabbath as the Lord’s day; winks at the liquor traffic, and by its confessional strikes at the very foundation of free manhood, freedom of thought and liberty of conscience.
This contrast shows clearly that Romanism, whatever good it may have done, is now many centuries behind the times. This is a very serious defect. It has the Bible, a Latin version called the Vulgate which it claims as its own. It has the New Testament and for that reason it is classed as a Christian religion. It has however, opposed and suppressed the reading of the Bible by the people, lest the spread of intelligence, through a personal knowledge of its contents, would lessen the respect and obedience of the people to the false claims of the pope, clerical orders and priesthood.
Several generations of slave holders in this country gave this same reason, as a good one for not providing educational facilities for their slaves, fearing that intelligence, which greatly increases the value of the workman, would tend to lessen their authority over them. It serves to illustrate the old worn-out adage, that “might makes right,” instead of the newer and better one, “God is with the right.”
The ability to rule, in both cases, is based on the ignorance, instead of the intelligence of the subject. When thus expressed in plain words, it certainly does not sound very creditable, or as if it were the best policy. It is not uncharitable to say, that as a policy, it is “out of date.” Our Lord Jesus was a teacher as well as Savior. He went from place to place, teaching and encouraging the people to “search the scriptures,” that they might know, what to believe concerning Him, in order to inherit eternal life and “have life more abundantly.”
This is one of the good features of Protestantism. It is based on a personal knowledge of the Bible and the general intelligence of the people. Its motto is “Let the Light Shine.” Truth is mighty and in the end will prevail, for “justice and judgment are the habitation of God’s throne.”
When the Bible was suppressed in France and human reason exalted, all the infernal elements of a depraved human nature held high carnival. Enthusiasm and fanaticism, the allies of ignorance and superstition, caused the people to think and act wildly. If in his heart there is no devout faith, to develop the sense of personal responsibility and duty, man becomes ready for any evil under the sun. Sin, however, has been and always will be the parent of misery. “The wages of sin is death.” This one terrific experiment, of a half-century in France without the Bible, should be enough for a thousand worlds, through countless years.
The life-giving word of Divine Truth is the salt that preserves learning and a sense of personal obligation to do that which is right, amid the changing scenes of time and life. Learning is knowledge based on fact, and not on fiction or unbelief. Duty as a practical matter has regard for that “righteousness, that exalteth a nation,” as well as the salvation that saves the individual.
“Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” A knowledge of the truth tends to produce that self-restraint, that is essential to freedom; and that sense of duty and right, that results in faithful public service. Genuine liberty has never been realized, where there has not been also an intelligent self-restraint.
The fundamental principle of the Reformation was expressed by Luther as follows: “The Word of God, the whole Word of God, and nothing but the Word of God.”
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