The more things change, the more things stay the same. The world of the 21st century may look and feel very different from the world of the 17th century, but thistles still produce thorns and fig trees still produce figs.
Having survived the massacres of the 16th century, the Protestant Christians of France carried on with where they had left off. The Roman Catholic church and French nobility had gained nothing by their persecutions, but the Gospel had gained souls for heaven and a church more determined to live lives of holiness on earth.
Interestingly, families who had survived their suffering were not taught to hold the fort and look to the clouds for the Lord’s return. Instead, they were taught to double their efforts to live holy and fruitful lives.
Men were taught to dread a guilty conscience, and the wrath of God, more than penance and purgatory. Impurity was the same in all classes and conditions. No distinction was to be made between rich and poor, the high and the low.
Instead of the gloom of the world around them, the believers were taught to purify their cheerfulness and rejoice in the enjoyments God had given them.
19th Century Pastor and historian, William Henry Foote writes,
The vine-clad hills and fertile vales were the homes of simple hearted cheerfulness and piety. Men and women were taught to be glad in the Lord, and kind to their fellow men.
Marriage was especially held in the highest esteem and the church guarded it with unceasing care. A man who trifled with a woman’s emotions was considered a sinner. A promise of marriage was binding and both men and women were taught to expect their highest earthly enjoyments in domestic life.
They worked and they sang. They built joyful and enduring Christian families and communities, grounded in the highest morals.
In no part of Europe where the manners and customs and conversation more pleasing, pure and elevated than among the Protestant communities in France.
…and in no part of Europe were they more despised for their holiness.
For, says Foote, “The morals, the religious living and the domestic enjoyment of these people had one unequivocal commendation: The immoral hated them.”
The Protestants would sing of holiness and their songs enraged the immoral, sending them into a fury of persecution.
Kings and nobles and men in office cast envious eyes upon these beautiful specimens of human loveliness. And they would [if they could] tear down the vine to plunder the cluster.
Foote, W. H.
While the court of France was renowned as the most splendid in Europe, beneath that splendour was concealed the most deadly indulgence of gross passion and impurity.
Like pornography in our day, wickedness and degenerate filth, starting with the royals and nobility, had become fashionable. But the holy living, honest labour, the joyful singing, prayer and public worship of the Protestant Christians was a constant, unspoken rebuke that drove both heathen and Roman Catholic, nuts.
Faith should be joyful, and these were a joyful people. Godliness is impressive and they were an impressive people. For the French Protestant, Christian freedom meant freedom to serve God and educate their children to godliness and purity.
They were inventive, hard working, well educated, honest and humble, bringing prosperity, to their own communities, and to all of France.
Their numbers increased daily. Not only from within their own families but from a multitude of converts from the Roman Catholic faith. And so the term, ” The French Pulpit”, became known throughout Europe, as the preaching and teaching of sound doctrine, leading to a stable faith and a holy life, lived in meekness and simplicity of heart.
They expected to be justified by the righteousness of Jesus Christ and would hear of nothing less than the perfect love of a perfect Saviour who would uphold them until their final day – and into eternity.
The times may have changed, but our sins have not. Just as Rome, through its pomp, childish marketing, compromise with the world, and its immorality, sought to win the people – and a seat at the kings table – so too with the immoral church of our own day.
But God also does not change. Salvation and repentance, as the power of God in their day, is no different to the power of God for a transformed life in our day. Holiness, as a fruit of life in their day, is no different to the fruitful lives of Christians and the true church today.
This is the life we are called to live. Lives made beautiful and a true witness to the power of the gospel, through holiness.