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in his heart; for it must not be mentioned at home to his father, who was blindly led by the monks. His mother and his brother Peter joined with him on the side of the new preachers. He read the Bible and the 'little books;' he grew strong under the teachings of Lefevre and Farel, and became a ready expounder of the Scriptures. When the teachers were exiled, the Christians looked to him as their shepherd.
This wool-carder went from house to house comforting the disciples. His zeal outran his prudence, and he sought to give Popery such a blow as only a Luther had strength to inflict. He wrote a proclamation against the Pope, declaring that the Lord was about to destroy Antichrist by the breath of His mouth. He took the 'placards,' and boldly posted them on the gates of the cathedral. Hundreds gathered on the spot to read the strange words. Soon all were in confusion: the disciples were amazed; the priests were angry; the monks were outrageous, and they demanded that at least one example should be made to terrify the people. Who would be a better one than this wool-carder? The king would not call him 'one of his learned men,' and treat him with favour. Leclerc was cast into prison.
He was hurried through a trial, under the eyes of the fallen bishop. He was condemned to be whipped through the streets of the city on three days; and to wind up the cruelty, his forehead was to be branded with the mark of a heretic. No time was to be lost. The poor carder was led through the city, with his hands bound and his shoulders bare, while the blows fell and the blood flowed. An immense crowd followed in the gory tracks of the victim: some yelled with rage against the heretic; others gave clear signs of their tender compassion. One woman lent him her eyes and her voice: the sufferer took courage; she was his mother.
At last, on the third day, when the scourgings and marches were over, the fortieth stripe not being spared, the procession halted at the usual place of execution. The hangman prepared the fire, heated the iron, and branded the brow on which the name of Jesus was written. A loud shriek was heard, but it came not from the tormented disciple. It was that of the mother, who shouted, with a voice that made the persecutors tremble, 'Glory to Jesus Christ, and to His witnesses!' Such boldness, at such a moment, was a crime worthy of severe punishment; but she had appalled both priests and soldiers. An unseen hand controlled their fury. She turned away, the crowd respectfully parted, the monks and town-sergeants gazed unmoved, and she slowly walked to her humble dwelling. None dared to arrest her. Leclerc was then set at liberty, and passed some months at Rosay, about twenty miles from Meaux. He was recovering for a greater work in a new field.
The foes of truth were elated with their victory; the friends of the Crucified hid under the shadow of the Almighty. An old chronicler says: 'The Cordeliers, having recaptured the pulpits, propagated their lies and trumpery as usual.' But the poor workmen would not go to hear them. They ' began to meet in secret, after the manner of the sons of the prophets in the time of Ahab, and of the Christians of the primitive Church; and as opportunity offered, they assembled at one time in a house, at another in some cave, sometimes also in a vineyard or in a wood. There he who was most versed in the Holy Scriptures exhorted the rest; and this done, they all prayed together with great, courage, supporting each other with the hope that the gospel would be revived in France, and that the tyranny of Antichrist would come to an end.'
On other plains the light was breaking. At Metz1 there dwelt a man, described as ' a marvellously learned clerk, of small stature, who had spent much time in travel, who spoke every language, and had studied every science.' This was Master Agrippa, now chief magistrate of the city. He had read Luther's works, and lent them to his friends. Many of the clergy, nobility, and citizens were gained over to the cause of truth. In 1522, some one had pasted on the corner of the bishop's palace a placard, whose large letters extolled what Luther had done. The public attention was excited. Master Agrippa had enough to do in answering questions and preserving the peace.
Leclerc went to Metz in 1523, and there, like Paul at Corinth, he worked at his trade and persuaded the people. He talked with the labourers, and the 'Lutheran business' was on every lip. The flames, partly smothered,
1 In the thirteenth century, Metz drew the attention of Christendom. Certain Waldenses brought to that city translations of several books of the Bible, which were scattered through the diocese, and eagerly read by the people. Societies of Bible-readers were formed. These Christians began to separate themselves from the Roman Church. The priests endeavoured to put a stop to their meetings. The bishop reported them to the Pope, who advised gentle measures. But they were forbidden to hold their meetings. They refused to give up the Bible, even if the Pope should demand it. They pointed out many Romish errors, and said that the Bible gave them better light than the ignorant clergy. At length they were accounted heretics, quite akin to the Waldenses : their assemblies were broken up, their Bibles burned; and a synod at Toulouse (1229) uttered its warning against all translations of the Scriptures into the language of the people.—NBander's Church History, vol. iv.
now broke out afresh. Every opposition was useless: the people would inquire, discuss, and believe. Many of the more learned among them took the side of the Reformation, and the gospel began to be preached. Another helper came to the work of the Lord.
John Chatelain, an Augustine monk, had been brought to the truth at Antwerp. He came to Metz, says the chronicle, 'a man declining in years, and of agreeable manners, a great preacher, and very eloquent, a wondrous comforter to the poorer sort; by which means he gained the good-will of most of the people, not of all, especially of the majority of the priests and great rabbins, against whom the said friar John preached daily, setting forth their vices and their sins, saying that they abused the poor people, by which animosity was stirred up.' And yet the truth from his eloquent tongue did not fall with such power as it did from ' the lips of a poor artisan, who laid aside the comb with which he carded his wool, to explain a French version of the gospel.'
There dwelt in the city a devout woman of the middle class, named Toussaint, who often talked with her son Peter in a serious strain while he was at play. She, like all the townspeople, expected something wonderful to occur in those times. One day the child was riding on a stick in his mother's room, while she was conversing with her friends on the things of God. She said to them, in an earnest tone, 'Antichrist will soon come with great power, and destroy those who have been converted at the preaching of Elias.' These words, often repeated, were fixed in the child's memory for life.
Peter was no longer a child when the new preachers were declaring the gospel in Metz. His genius led his relatives to hope that he would one day fill an eminent place in the Church, for his uncle was the dean, and Cardinal John of Lorraine a warm friend. Peter, although but a youth, had obtained a prebend, when the gospel came to his ear. He listened, and wondered if the preaching of Chatelain and Leclerc was that of Elias. Antichrist was arming against it in every quarter. He believed in the coming of the Lord, and prepared to enter His service. He saw the Chevalier Esch, his uncle's intimate friend, casting his lot with the reformers, who gave him a hearty welcome. Peter called him ' the knight, our worthy master,' adding with noble candour, 'if, however, we are permitted to have a master upon earth.'
Cheering was the progress of the gospel in the city, when it was suddenly arrested by the imprudent zeal of Leclerc. The affair of the placards at Meaux had not cured him of rashness. He saw with grief the idolatries of the people. One of their great festivals was approaching. It was the habit of the people, on a certain day, to make a pilgrimage to a chapel about three miles distant, where were images of the Virgin, and of the most celebrated saints of the country. They worshipped these images, in order to obtain the pardon of their sins.
The eve of the festival came; Leclerc's pious soul was agitated. He seemed to hear a voice saying, 'Thou shalt not bow down to their gods; but thou shalt utterly overthrow them, and quite break down their images.' As the night came, he left the city, and went to the chapel. There he sat a while, silent, before the statues. He wavered in his purpose; but he thought how, in a few hours, the whole city would be bowing down before blocks of wood and stone. He rose up, took down the images,