The Church in the Wilderness

Chapter 36

God’s Word pointed forward to a time when His true church would be forced to flee to the wilderness. (See Revelation 12:6, 14.) The church in the wilderness is the connecting link between apostolic Christianity and the remnant church of God. This church was not made up of dissident members of other faiths, nor did it possess a newly found faith. The religious truths that it held were a sacred legacy from the days of the apostles.

Already in the apostles' day the seeds of corruption were at work within the Christian church though restrained for a time, the day came when this power was free to work without restraint.

From the fifth to the fifteenth century, the lamp of truth burned dimly. During the years that the Church of Rome was expanding its borders, seeking to engulf the whole of Europe, in southern France the simple gospel was taking hold of the minds of the people. The people who accepted the gospel in this area became known as Albigenses. Disciples multiplied and congregations were formed. In some areas, cities and even whole provinces joined in the movement. For a short time it appeared that all of southern France might become truly Christian, throwing off the superstitions of the Roman Church a full three-hundred years before the Reformation began. Mercifully, providence veiled the future from these devout followers of Christ.

In Rome, the Church suddenly awakened to the fact that while her attention had been directed to far away conquests, right within the dominions that she had considered secure, a new threat was arising. For a number of years the popes had viewed with comparative indifference the small and seemingly insignificant sects that were springing up across Europe and particularly in southern France. For a time, the Church even hoped that eventually they could be blended into the larger Catholic Church. After years of fighting the Moslems in the East with little to show for all the bloodshed and expense, Rome began to see that the zeal and blood which she so freely lavished on distant shores might be turned to a better account nearer to home. The very existence of this people, holding the faith of the ancient church, testified to Rome's apostasy and therefore excited her most bitter hatred. Accordingly, she set out to destroy them.

To stamp out the rival religion, the pope called for a crusade. In exchange for forty days of service, the soldiers were promised that all who engaged in the battle against these enemies of God and the Church would receive forgiveness of all their sins-an atonement for a lifetime of vice and crime. In addition, as a part of the reward, all of the homes and property of the hated sect were to be given to those who helped to destroy them. Going beyond these immediate rewards, they had the word of the pope that at death they would find angels prepared to carry them directly through the gates of Paradise where crowns and rich rewards awaited them. Never had heaven been so cheap!

Throughout the years of 1207 and 1208, the preparations for war went on. Like the mutterings of distant thunder, the dreadful sound echoed throughout Europe, reaching the doomed provinces where it was heard with terror.

In the spring of 1209, the Roman Church's armed host was ready to move. Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, a French nobleman who had returned from the crusades in the east, was the chief military officer. The army of over 50,000 soldiers was followed by an even larger host of ignorant and fanatical rabble, bringing the total closer to half a million men. The multitude that followed the soldiers, though ill prepared to do battle with knights, were armed with scythes and clubs, prepared to murder the women and children.

It is never safe to compromise with wrong, but Raymond VI, the Count of Toulouse, seeing the dreadful storm approaching, was overcome with terror. Quickly he wrote a letter to the pope, offering to come to his terms, whatever they might be. As the price of his reconciliation, he was required to give over to the pope seven of his strongest towns. In addition, he was to appear at the town where a papal legate, who had been murdered in his dominions, was buried. He was there beaten with rods. Next, a rope was placed around his neck and he was dragged by the current legate, in the presence of several bishops and an immense multitude of spectators, to the tomb of the friar. After all of this, he was obliged to take the cross and join with those who were plundering his cities, massacring his subjects, and by fire and sword, turning his territories into a desert waste. Stung by the humiliations, he again changed sides, but it was too late to save himself. In the end, he lost all of his possessions, which were given to Simon de Montfort.

The person next in rank and prestige to the Count of Toulouse to stand and oppose the invading force was young Raymond Roger, Viscount of Brziers. As he watched the horde of murderers draw closer, he realized that submission would only invite destruction. Working quickly, he placed his kingdom in a position of strong defense. Given the number of subjects he had, and their defenses, he had reason to hope that they might succeed in defeating the undisciplined mob that threatened them. A Catholic himself, he called together his knights and told them of his purpose. Though many of them were also papists, they willingly supported him in his determination to resist. The castles were garrisoned and provisions gathered. From the surrounding villages, the peasants were brought into the fortified cities, there to await the advancing host.

In the middle of July 1209, the crusaders arrived before the walls of Brziers. To the defenders it appeared as if the whole world was gathered against them. Deciding that the best defense would be an early attack before the invaders had an opportunity to fortify their encampment, they immediately attacked.

The assault was repelled, and the crusaders, mingling with the citizens as they retreated to the town, entered the gates along with them. Before they had even formulated a plan of attack, the papal army had the city in their hands. The knights, realizing that there were many faithful Catholics in the town, asked the papal legate, the Abbot of Citeaux, how they might distinguish the Catholics from the heretics. In reply, he cried: "Kill all! Kill all! The Lord will know His own." Wylie, The History of Protestantism, vol. 1, 42

The city that normally had a population of 15,000 was now filled with more than 60,000 people. As soon as they realized that the city was taken, the multitude fled to the churches and began to toll the bells by way of supplication. Instead of gaining mercy for them, the sound only attracted the invaders; and soon the dead bodies of innocent victims covered the floors of the churches. The bodies of the helpless victims were heaped in piles around the altar while their blood flowed out the doors in torrents. In one church alone, 7,000 bodies were counted. When the last living creature in all Bhiers had been killed and every home pillaged of anything that was worth carrying off, the city was burned to ashes. Not one house remained inside; not one human was left alive.

In the terrible fate of Brziers, the other towns and villages read the fate that awaited them. Many smaller towns and villages were entirely vacated as the people fled to the caves and forests for refuge. The advancing host burned and destroyed everything in their path.

Finally, on the first of August, the crusaders advanced to Carcassonne. This city stood on the bank of the Aude, and its fortifications were strong. Young count, Raymond Roger, was their leader. Many defenders were inside the city, and as the multitude advanced, they were met with a stout defense. From atop the walls, the defenders poured streams of boiling water and oil on the crusaders and crushed them with great stones and other heavy projectiles. As often as they attacked, they were repulsed. Meanwhile, the forty days' service for which most of the men had signed up was expiring; and in the face of continued resistance, the army was beginning to melt away. Arnold, the papal legate, seeing that if there was not a sudden change of things all might yet be lost, decided to resort to craft.

In all ages, the righteous have obtained help from God. The enemies of His people can never put down those whom God would lift up, as long as they remain faithful to principle. Time and again Satan has tried to destroy those whom God is leading and guiding; but if the followers of Jesus are faithful, they need not be terrified by the rulers of darkness of this world. The power of the enemy is limited; God has set limits that he cannot go beyond. When unable to destroy God's people by an open frontal attack, Satan often resorts to policy and deceit, seeking to lead them to concede to a compromise. Our great fear should not, therefore, be the enemies who come against us, but that we will fail to maintain our integrity. There can never be agreement between those who have aligned themselves with error and those who have chosen to defend the truth, but Satan seeks to persuade God's people to listen to his agents. He knows well that the road to compromise is entered upon as soon as God's people agree to discuss their differences with those who have shown themselves to be enemies of truth.

The papal legate offered Roger the hope of an honorable surrender and promised to respect his liberty if he would only come out of the city. Listening to God's enemies is always dangerous; and on coming out, Roger was immediately arrested, along with the 300 knights who had accompanied him. On the inside of the city, the garrison, seeing what had happened to their leader, determined, along with the citizens of the town, to make their escape by a secret passage known only to themselves.

The next morning, upon entering the city without meeting any resistance, the papal legate was amazed to find it completely deserted. Though deprived of the full victory he had anticipated, he was determined not to be wholly deprived. He might not have the greater satisfaction he had anticipated, but he could certainly have a measure of triumph. Casting about, he was able to gather together 450 persons, a group made up partly of fugitives whom he had earlier captured and partly of the 300 knights who had accompanied the viscount. Of these, he burned 400 persons alive; and the remaining 50 he hanged.

Though this was the last of the crusades, the next twenty years were dedicated to rooting out any seeds of heresy that remained. In the place of the crusades, Rome introduced a new and more-to-be-dreaded engine of terror—the Inquisition. The rich plains of southern France which had once yielded bountiful harvests were turned into a desert wasteland. The once flourishing towns and villages were swept away, leaving only blood and ashes.

But Rome, with all her violence, was unable to fully arrest the progress of truth. In seeking to crush the flame of truth, she only managed to scatter the sparks that were to later spring up over an even wider area. And though she had succeeded in slowing the movement that would become the Reformation, new instruments of power, unknown to that age, were being prepared to spread the gospel more quickly and over a wider field than had yet been dreamed possible. The divine principles, upon which the Reformation was to build, though seemingly extinguished, were yet to burn ever more brightly, filling the whole earth with their light.