A French Voice on Islam 500 Years Ago

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  • A French Voice on Islam 500 Years Ago

    Ian Brown

    The greatest of all Protestant Reformers was the Frenchman Dr. John Calvin (1509-64). Born in Noyon, Picardy, he lived, testified, and died during the time of Islam’s greatest expansion into Eastern Europe. Calvin studied theology in the University of Paris from 1523 and later proceeded to the College de France in Paris to study Greek. He experienced a “sudden conversion” in the early 1530s and grasped Protestantism. Having attacked the abuses in the French Catholic church, he fled Paris and took up residence in Geneva for his own safety.

    By 1453, the Turks had captured Constantinople. They then started to overrun Southeastern Europe during the lifetimes of the two great Protestant Reformers, Martin Luther (1483-1546) and John Calvin (1509-1564). Commented Calvin:

    “When we see the troubles that are nowadays in the World – let us not be overcome by them! Neither let our Faith be defaced! But the more the devil labours and enforces himself to undo it -- the more let it advance itself and get the upper hand of such assaults!”

    In his teaching, Calvin:

    • branded Mohammad a false prophet (Deuteronomy 13:1-8) and defined the ‘Gospel of Mahomet’ “to turn all things upside down, and to bring all things to confusion”;

    • accused the Moslems of putting their Mahomet in the place of God’s Son [Sermons on Deuteronomy (13:1f)] and of placing an idol in the place of God:

    Calvin explained in the 1536 edition of his Institutes: “The Turks in the present day ... proclaim ... with full throat that the Creator of Heaven and Earth is their God. Yet they – by their rejection [of the Godhead and Saviourhood] of Christ – substitute an idol in His place."

    That is to say, Allah is an idol substituted by Mohammed and his Moslems – instead of the one and only true and Triune God.

    • described Mahomet and the Pope of Rome as, “the two horns of Antichrist,” plus he saw their religions as corresponding to the two legs of the later Roman Empire – Islam and the Papacy [1556-57 Sermons on Deuteronomy (18:15 & 33:2)]:

    “Since Mohammed was an apostate, he turned his followers, the Turks, from Christ ... . The sect of Mohammed was like a raging overflow, which in its violence tore away about half of the Church. It remained for [the Papal] Antichrist to infect with his poison the part which was left.”

    • equated the emergence of the Moslems with the global spread of hatred of God:

    “The Turks, a long time afterwards ... suddenly burst forth like a deluge ... .
    Rabbi Barbinel [Avrabanel (1437-1508)] ... seems to excel others in acuteness ... . The
    Turks, says he, occupy a large portion of the World – and religion among Christians, is
    divided ... . The Turks have spread far and wide, and the World is filled with impious despisers of God.”

    • considered Islam to be a religion that “corrupted conjugal love and fidelity”:

    “For Mahomet allowed to men the brutal liberty of chastising their wives, and thus he corrupted that conjugal love and fidelity which binds the husband to the wife ... . Mahomet
    allowed full scope to various lusts – by permitting a man to have a number of wives. This seems like an explanation – of his being inattentive to the love of women.” [Commentaries on Daniel (at 11:37)].

    • accused Mahomet of adding to Scripture: in his Sermons on Job (4:15f) Calvin observed that, “Devilish curiosity be not contented to be taught simply by the Holy Scripture! Behold also -- whereupon the religion of the Turks is founded!
    Mahomet has reported himself to be the party that should bring the full revelation – over
    and besides the Gospel.
    ... But let us content us with the Holy Scripture – seeing that God has enclosed us within the bounds thereof!”

    • viewed Islam as an insatiable war machine, closing in on the conquest of Germany and all of Europe:

    In 1539, Calvin wrote to his friend Farel that, “the more prudent ... foresee that the Turk
    will not remain quiet if he sees Germany engaged in civil war. Already he has possession
    of Upper and Lower Wallachia [in Romania]; and has declared war upon the King of Poland unless he [the latter] allows him free passage through his territories.”

    Soliman, the Leader of the Moslem Turks, then invaded Hungary with a huge army. He
    took possession of almost the whole country. Indeed, his fleet besieged even Nice in
    France!

    Very concerned, Calvin in Switzerland then wrote to Philip Melanchthon in Germany in
    1543: “It is not without the bitterest grief that I hear of the sad condition of your Germany! Nor are the evils which I dread, of a less serious kind than those which I bewail ... .”

    The Turk again prepares to wage war with a larger force. Who will stand up to oppose
    his marching throughout the length and breadth of the land, at his mere will and pleasure?”

    • identified the false doctrines introduced by Mahomet as the reason behind the stubbornness and brutality of his followers:

    “Mahomet has reported himself to be the party that should bring the full revelation – over and besides the Gospel. And by means thereof, they [the Islamic Turks] have utterly become brute beasts ... . At this day, we see that those poor beasts busy their heads about as doltish and unsensible things as any can be. But it is the just vengeance of God, Who has given them over to a wilful stubborn mind!” [Sermons on Job (4:15f)].

    • was prepared to die for the cause of truth in opposition to Islam and Rome, knowing that God would preserve and propagate His own truth even through their deaths:

    “Yet we Protestants," added Calvin, “feel assured that we ... do the work of the Lord. We are also confident that He will by no means be wanting either to Himself or to it. But be the issue what it may – we will never repent of having begun and of having proceeded thus far ... . We are indeed desirous, as we ought to be, that our ministry may prove salutory to the World ... . We will die; but even in death, be conquerors ... . We know that our blood will be as seed to propagate the divine truth!”

    • was confident that ultimate victory would come to the true Kingdom of Christ.

    Calvin was not at all discouraged when he perceived that Daniel predicted the later rise and development of the Roman Pontiff as the “Leader and Standard-bearer” of the Kingdom of Anti-christ. Nor was Calvin discouraged to see Islam more and more challenging the claims of Christ, and ultimately drawing closer to the Standard-bearer of Antichrist’s abominable kingdom. For Calvin knew, also from the Book of Daniel, that Christ’s Kingdom would nonetheless increase and ultimately triumph over Islam as well as over the Papacy.

    Therefore in his 1561 Commentaries on Daniel (at 11:34), Dr. Calvin uttered a passionate prayer. He petitioned: “Grant, Almighty God, as at this day Thou dost try the faith of Thy People by many tests, that they may obtain strength from the unconquered fortitude of Thy Holy Spirit!

    May we constantly march under Thy standard, even to the end; and never succumb to any temptation!”

    Instead, Calvin urged the Lord: “Add numbers to the cause! And should the number of those who are professed Members of Thy Church diminish – yet may some seed always remain, until abundant produce shall flow forth from it; and such fruitfulness arise, as shall cause Thy Name to be glorified throughout the whole World, in Jesus Christ our Lord!”

    The citizens of France today would do well to reflect on the comments of this Frenchman from 500 years ago. As we often discover, the key to interpreting what is happening in the present is found in the past.
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