What Might Have Been


“With the flight of the Huguenots a general decline settled upon France. Flourishing manufacturing cities fell into decay. ... It is estimated that, at the breaking out of the Revolution, two hundred thousand paupers in Paris claimed charity from the hands of the king. The Jesuits alone flourished in the decaying nation.”

The gospel would have brought to France the solution of those problems that baffled her clergy, king, and legislators, and finally plunged the nation into ruin. But under Rome the people had lost the Saviour’s lessons of self-sacrifice and unselfish love for the good of others. The rich had no rebuke for the oppression of the poor; the poor no help for their degradation. The selfishness of the wealthy and powerful grew more and more oppressive. For centuries, the rich wronged the poor, and the poor hated the rich.

In many provinces the laboring classes were at the mercy of landlords and were forced to submit to exhorbitant demands. The middle and lower classes were heavily taxed by the civil authorities and clergy. “The farmers and the peasants might starve, for aught their oppressors cared. ... The lives of the agricultural laborers were lives of incessant work and unrelieved misery; their complaints ... were treated with insolent contempt. ... Bribes were notoriously accepted by the judges. ... Of the taxes, ... not half ever found its way into the royal or episcopal treasury; the rest was squandered in profligate self-indulgence. And the men who thus impoverished their fellow-subjects were themselves exempt from taxation and entitled by law or custom to all the appointments of the state. ... For their gratification millions were condemned to hopeless and degrading lives.”

For more than half a century before the Revolution the throne was occupied by Louis XV, distinguished as an indolent, frivolous, and sensual monarch. With the state financially embarrassed and the people exasperated, it needed no prophet’s eye to foresee a terrible outbreak. In vain the necessity of reform was urged. The doom awaiting France was pictured in the king’s selfish answer, “After me, the deluge!”

Rome had influenced the kings and ruling classes to keep the people in bondage, purposing to fasten both rulers and people in her shackles upon their souls. A thousand-fold more terrible than the physical suffering which resulted from her policy was the moral degradation. Deprived of the Bible, and abandoned to selfishness, the people were shrouded in ignorance and sunken in vice, wholly unfitted for self-government.

Results Reaped in Blood

Instead of holding the masses in blind submission to her dogmas, Rome’s work resulted in making them infidels and revolutionists. Romanism they despised as priestcraft. The only god they knew was the god of Rome. They regarded her greed and cruelty as the fruit of the Bible, and they would have none of it.

Rome had misrepresented the character of God, and now men rejected both the Bible and its Author. In the reaction, Voltaire and his associates cast aside God’s Word altogether and spread infidelity. Rome had ground down the people under her iron heel; and now the masses cast off all restraint. Enraged, they rejected truth and falsehood together.

At the opening of the Revolution, by a concession of the king, the people were granted representation exceeding that of nobles and clergy combined. Thus the balance of power was in their hands; but they were not prepared to use it with wisdom and moderation. An outraged populace resolved to revenge themselves. The oppressed wrought out the lesson they had learned under tyranny and became the oppressors of those who had oppressed them.

France reaped in blood the harvest of her submission to Rome. Where France, under Romanism, had set up the first stake at the opening of the Reformation, there the Revolution set up its first guillotine. On the spot where the first martyrs to the Protestant faith were burned in the sixteenth century, the first victims were guillotined in the eighteenth. When the restraints of God’s law were cast aside, the nation swept on to revolt and anarchy. The war against the Bible stands in world history as the Reign of Terror. He who triumphed today was condemned tomorrow.

King, clergy, and nobles were compelled to submit to the atrocities of a maddened people. Those who decreed the death of the king soon followed him to the scaffold. A general slaughter of all suspected of hostility to the Revolution was determined. France became a vast field for contending masses, swayed by the fury of passions. “In Paris one tumult succeeded another, and the citizens were divided into a medley of factions, that seemed intent on nothing but mutual extermination. ... The country was nearly bankrupt, the armies were clamoring for arrears of pay, the Parisians were starving, the provinces were laid waste by brigands, and civilization was almost extinguished in anarchy and license.”

All too well the people had learned the lessons of cruelty and torture which Rome had so diligently taught. It was not now the disciples of Jesus that were dragged to the stake. Long ago these had perished or been driven into exile. “The scaffolds ran red with the blood of the priests. The galleys and the prisons, once crowded with Huguenots, were now filled with their persecutors. Chained to the bench and toiling at the oar, the Roman Catholic clergy experienced all those woes which their church had so freely inflicted on the gentle heretics.”

“Then came those days ... when spies lurked in every corner; when the guillotine was long and hard at work every morning; when the jails were filled as close as the holds of a slave ship; when the gutters ran foaming with blood into the Seine. ... Long rows of captives were mowed down with grapeshot. Holes were made in the bottom of crowded barges. ... The number of young lads and of girls of seventeen who were murdered by that execrable government, is to be reckoned by hundreds. Babies torn from the breast were tossed from pike to pike along the Jacobin ranks.”

All this was as Satan would have it. His policy is deception and his purpose is to bring wretchedness upon men, to deface the workmanship of God, to mar the divine purpose of love, and thus cause grief in heaven. Then by his deceptive arts, he leads men to throw the blame on God, as if all this misery were the result of the Creator’s plan. When the people found Romanism to be a deception, he urged them to regard all religion as a cheat and the Bible as a fable.

The Fatal Error

The fatal error which wrought such woe for France was the ignoring of this one great truth: true freedom lies within the proscriptions of the law of God. “O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea.” Isaiah 48:18. Those who will not read the lesson from the Book of God are bidden to read it in history.

When Satan wrought through the Roman Church to lead men away from obedience, his work was disguised. By the working of the Spirit of God his purposes were prevented from reaching their full fruition. The people did not trace the effect to its cause and discover the source of their miseries. But in the Revolution the law of God was openly set aside by the National Council. And in the Reign of Terror which followed, the working of cause and effect could be seen by all.

The transgression of a just and righteous law must result in ruin. The restraining Spirit of God, which imposes a check upon the cruel power of Satan, was in a great measure removed, and he whose delight is the wretchedness of men was permitted to work his will. Those who had chosen rebellion were left to reap its fruits. The land was filled with crimes. From devastated provinces and ruined cities a terrible cry was heard of bitter anguish. France was shaken as if by an earthquake. Religion, law, social order, the family, the state, and the church—all were smitten down by the impious hand that had been lifted against the law of God.

HF 174-178.1