Writing was still an avenue for service. In 1598, after helping with the Edict of Nantes, Mornay published De L’institution, usage et doctrine du saint sacrement de l’eucharistie en l’église ancienne (The institution, use, and doctrine of the holy sacrament of the eucharist in the ancient church). Just as Roman Catholic officials wanted him out of government, Roman Catholic clergy certainly wanted him out of theology. Mornay agreed to meet and answer public challenges to his work, but he did not do well on his feet in debate. The opposition was so intense that it broke him physically. Charlotte spoke up: “Take courage, this is God’s work.” But Mornay’s health forced him to leave. Roman Catholics gloated, but the company of pastors at Geneva sent Mornay “hearty thanks for his great zeal and affection to the truth of God, and for his worthy labours in defense thereof,” ordering the work to be distributed.
Mornay returned home to recover some strength and work quietly. He was at morning worship on a Sunday in 1601 when a young man entered a side door during the sermon. A monk had hired him to assassinate Mornay. The young man’s courage failed at the edge of the sanctuary, so Mornay survived. A long trail of evidence showed support for the conspiracy. God had again spared Mornay’s life for further work.
Mornay had trained his son to take up his mantle. Philippe eagerly adopted the Huguenot cause, believing his parents’ biblical teaching. He also began involvement in politics, and at the age of twenty-six went to fight for freedom of religion in the Netherlands. But while the fall from a horse kept his father out of one battle and capture kept him out of another, nothing stopped Philippe, who eagerly rode with the Dutch into battle against Roman Catholic Spain. He died there on October 23, 1605.
In France, the Mornays received the news. Unlike political disappointments, this blow struck at the heart of family and future. Both parents had believed that Philippe would carry on their service to the church after they died, and now that was gone. Their hopes, as well as years of praying, training, teaching, and loving, seemed to have been blown apart by a Spanish bullet.
To help cope with the grief, Mornay wrote a lengthy poem, working through the spiritual and emotional consequences of the loss. It includes an obituary: Philippe was “with a Musket-shot struck through the breast, and fell . . . and was made immortal.” The work is a father’s heart honestly crying out to God, full of Scripture and a trust in God’s loving faithfulness. Mornay saw the dangers both of stoic fatalism and also of giving himself over to grief. “Let us be moved,” he addressed Charlotte; “let us be melted. And my desire is that we acquaint ourselves fully with this accidental (not eternal) affliction. . . . We are deprived of a son, dear wife, an only son, and how good a son! Our God the true comforter, be our comfort: he who has caused our sorrows, conclude them: be he our cure, who has procured our hurt: only comforter, only surgeon.”
It was the first half of a double sorrow. Charlotte never recovered from her son’s death, and months later, in 1606, she died. After Philippe’s death, Mornay had written that “in calling him away, [God has] almost torn me up from my rooting in earth (there wants only one other pull).” Charlotte’s death was that pull, but he still had to live, had to face a life that felt lonely and, in some ways, futureless. Of all the providential blocks to his work, the loss of Philippe, his spiritual heir, and Charlotte, his faithful helpmeet, seemed the most final. But even in this grief, Mornay saw a gift: “She assisted me to live well, and by her pious death, she has taught me to die well.” Friends commented on his lack of bitterness. Even in the hardest providence, Mornay was prepared to submit.
His knowledge of the Bible balanced him through waves of grief. Since boyhood, study of Scripture had been a habit. The accumulated knowledge of God’s Word and character became his rod and staff through this valley. Godly daughters and their children were also a comfort. His published commentaries give us insight into his thinking: “Are you a Christian and overwhelmed with adversity, or toiled under your calling? Pour out your heart to the Lord; roll yourself on him, take him for your pledge, and do not doubt: as he is naturally good and faithful in his promises, so he will take your burden on himself and comfort you.” At times, it seemed as though Mornay described himself: “He does not murmur, does not answer back, but yields to [God’s] will, and waits with patience for it to come, and submits his whole wisdom to [God’s] providence. This is certainly the highest point of faith.” This certainly seemed to be Mornay’s highest point of faith. These later writings have a Godward orientation and tenderness that his earliest works do not.