I have been working on a talk I have to give soon on the life and work of Antoine Court (1696–1760). Who? That is how I responded a couple of months ago when I was asked to give the lecture. Once I started to look for information about him, I realised that my ignorance was inexcusable because Court was an intelligent, brave, diligent, resourceful servant of Christ in France during the prolonged period of persecution of the Huguenots that covered the first six decades of the eighteenth century. Of course, the persecution of the French Protestant church had been taking place for more than a century before Court was born.
From his childhood, Court revealed that his heart was with the decimated Huguenots, even although it was very dangerous to identify with them. The persecution extended to children of the Huguenots and they were often forcefully taken from their parents and educated in Roman Catholic teaching. When he was in his late teens, he began preaching among the small, harassed groups of Protestants in south-east France (called ‘The Church in the Desert’). Although so young, he began to devise a method by which the Protestant church could be re-structured (his method was a form of Presbyterianism) and he spent two decades doing so, even although he and his colleagues were chased round the countryside by government forces. Many of his co-preachers were martyred. In his years of service in France, Court received no remuneration from the churches because they were very poor.
In 1729, he moved to Lausanne in Switzerland where he had set up a seminary for the training of pastors to serve the Huguenot congregations (many of these pastors were also martyred). He went back once to the area in France where he had preached. That was in 1744 (there was a respite in the persecution because government soldiers were engaged in a war), and for a month he preached virtually every day to congregations that numbered a couple of thousand. The largest audience was several thousand strong, a big change from the handfuls of people to whom he ministered when he began preaching thirty years previously.
The obvious lesson from Court’s life is the amount that the Lord can do with a person who is devoted to his cause, who has counted the cost, and is prepared to do anything and suffer all kinds of hostility for his Master. In comparison to Court, I know I have done very little.