If Methuselah died in 2017, he would have been born in 1048 and could have fought at the Battle of Hastings. He would have lived through the whole of the Reformation period and into the present day.
Not being Methuselahs, it isn’t like that for us! For us, the Reformation began seven or eight lifetimes ago; and it can seem like a confused jumble of events and stories that happened at some, long-ago time.
At least, that’s how I felt, because numbers never made a lot of sense to me. That’s partly why I like pictorial timelines; they let me see how people and events fit together in time.
The Trinitarian Bible Society’s (TBS) Reformation Timeline is of special interest to me, because it is one that they asked me to paint. As the artist, I’d like to take you on a short tour of exploration.
Let’s start in the planning stage, with what we wanted you to see on the timeline. We wanted to show you the centrality of Scripture to the Reformation and how Bible translations have flowed from it.
It was not possible in the relatively small space of this timeline to show how the Protestant princes of the Germanic states fought against the Roman Catholic armies and were eventually overcome. Nor could we show the extent to which the believers in France were ruthlessly suppressed, nor how the Swiss cantons divided and fought.
And what of Italy, Spain and the Netherlands? Different things happened in different nations. Yet the common and inevitable thread in every nation touched by the Reformation was a burning desire in able men to put the Word of God into the hands and hearts of their people.
That is what we see on the timeline: men like Luther, Tyndale, Coverdale, Olivetan, and so many others, working from the Greek and Hebrew texts to bring that vision into reality. This written Word of God challenged the power and supposed infallibility of the pope as nothing else could.
The Bible shows clearly that we can only come to God through Christ; not through the pope, nor his priests, nor Roman Catholic masses. Living by the Bible meant that the believers of Reformation times were out of step with the world, just as we should be. But are we prepared to pay the price that they paid?
The martyrs were the hardest part of the timeline for me to paint, particularly the Waldensians. I hear you say, ‘The Waldensians?’, in some confusion — because the Huguenots and English martyrs deaths are graphically illustrated on the timeline, but the Waldensians are not.
This is because I finally agreed with Wylie’s History of Protestantism that some sufferings can never fully be known, because they are too terrible to be told.
Challenge to Scripture
Long before the massacres of the Piedmont Waldensians, the Roman Catholic Church had begun to doubt the long-term effectiveness of burning people and Bibles. They were convinced that the only way to break the power of the Reformation was to break the Bible. In this they were more perceptive than many Christians of today.
At the Council of Trent (1545–1563), the Roman Church settled on a subtle course of undermining the inerrancy of Scripture. We still face this today: let us hold on to the Word of God. It is the only Word with the transforming reformation power that each and every one of us needs in our souls.
Time and timelines
Finally came the end of the timeline, waiting for the last of the paint to dry. The timeline took much longer to paint than I expected. Time flew ever faster the closer the deadlines came!
Both time and timelines are a one-way trip. Some of the people portrayed on this timeline spent time in Bible translation. Many more were simply faithful, whatever the cost. Although time is valuable, the Christ of Scripture is most valuable. We are not Methuselahs. This timeline shows that our lives are very short and we must choose how we spend them.
As for me, I’m glad to have been able to use some of my time to paint this Reformation Timeline for the TBS, and glad to have been able to tell you a little about it. I hope and pray that God will use it to further his work in the world.
The Reformation Timeline is available for £4.20 from the Trinitarian Bible Society. If you choose to buy one then here are a few things to look out for.
The darkness — representing spiritual darkness.
That the darkness was not complete — God preserved his church.
How the road from the port where Tyndale’s Bibles arrive leads straight to the martyrs, because persecution is inevitable.
How the Reformation exploded into Bible translations.
How God used even the unsaved (for example Henry VIII, James I) to do good; ‘The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will’ (Proverbs 21:1).
The end-piece showing people from many ages and nations affected by Luther’s witness.
Lots of animals — I like animals!
Abigail Mohon is an artist, who works for Evangelical Times as a designer and has undertaken design for the Trinitarian Bible Society. You can see more of her work on www.thepaintingmohon.net