The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 2


II. Far-reaching Implications of the Upheaval

The French Revolution was one of the momentous events in the history, not only of France, but of Europe and even the whole world. It introduced a new mode of political thinking, and released forces which are not yet spent. The ideas and conceptions underlying the French Revolution were of such a nature that they would of necessity lead to violent clashes with the established order. Vehement convulsions had to precede the establishment of such a social order, if ever it should be realized. PFF2 733.1

In the epochal Declaration of Human Rights it is stated that all men are born free and have equal rights. Those rights are: liberty, the right to hold property, and security against all oppression. The government that recognized these rights should be the only legitimate sovereignty. All are equal before the law; the poor no less than the rich are to be protected by it. None should be molested for their opinions and religious convictions. Every citizen should have the right to speak, write, and print what he wishes. War should never be waged except in self-defense. All men are brethren. Such were the background concepts. PFF2 733.2

To sense the full impact of these principles, one must visualize them as proclaimed at a time and in a country where absolutism still ruled supreme; where the Catholic Church had long enjoyed complete sway over the whole populace; where by ruthless persecution she had succeeded in crushing all dissenting movements; where the majority of the people, although nominally free, were poverty stricken beyond belief, and held in ignorance and superstition by a relentless grip. PFF2 733.3

Little wonder that these ideas were like sparks falling into dry timber, kindling a conflagration far beyond the intentions of their originators—a conflagration in which the throne, the church, the nobility, the whole old social order and all for which it stood, were burned like chaff. Alas, out of its violence, terror, and streams of blood emerged a completely different form of life than anticipated, not so much caused by its own choice as by external pressure and the momentum of circumstances—the dictatorship of Napoleon, and with it the birth of nationalism. PFF2 733.4

Democracy and nationalism are two forces which are the legacy of the French Revolution—two mighty impulses in the life of man, which, however, man has not been able to master even to this day. Some of the portentous events of the French Revolution will now be given in greater detail in connection with the impression they caused on serious Bible students of the time, and in relationship to prophetic interpretation. 6 PFF2 734.1