Love Under Fire


Chapter 12—Daybreak in France

After the Protest of Spires and the Confession at Augsburg came years of conflict and darkness. Weakened by divisions, Protestantism seemed headed for destruction. LF 90.1

But in the moment when the emperor apparently triumphed, he was struck with defeat. He was forced at last to grant toleration to the doctrines that he had wanted most in life to destroy. He saw his armies wasted by battle, his treasuries drained, his many kingdoms threatened by revolt, while the faith he had tried to suppress was growing everywhere. Charles V had been battling against omnipotent power. God had said, “Let there be light,” but the emperor had tried to keep the darkness unbroken. Worn out with the long struggle, he gave up the throne and buried himself in a monastery. LF 90.2

Many of Switzerland's regions, or cantons, accepted the reformed faith, but others clung to the teachings of Rome. Persecution resulted in civil war. Zwingli and many who had joined in the reform fell on the bloody field of Cappel. Rome was triumphant and in many places seemed about to recover all that she had lost. But God had not forsaken His cause or His people. In other lands He raised up workers to carry on the reform. LF 90.3

In France, one of the first to catch the light was Lefevre, a professor in the University of Paris. In his research into ancient literature, his attention was directed to the Bible, and he introduced some of his students to its study. He had begun to prepare a history of the saints and martyrs as given in the legends of the church, and had already made considerable progress in it, when, thinking that the Bible might help him in the project, he began to study it. Here indeed he found saints, but not the kind featured in the Roman church's calendar. In disgust he turned away from his self-appointed work and devoted himself to the Word of God. LF 90.4

In 1512, before either Luther or Zwingli had begun the work of reform, Lefevre wrote, “It is God who gives us, by faith, that righteousness which by grace alone justifies us to eternal life.”1 And while teaching that the glory of salvation belongs only to God, he also declared that the duty of obedience belongs to man. LF 90.5

Some of Lefevre's students listened eagerly to his words and continued to declare the truth long after the teacher's voice was silenced. One of these was William Farel. The son of religious parents and himself a devoted follower of Rome, he was zealous to destroy all who dared to oppose the church. “I would gnash my teeth like a furious wolf,” he said later, “when I heard anyone speaking against the pope.” But adoration of the saints, worshiping at the altars, and adorning the holy shrines with gifts could not bring peace to his heart. Conviction of sin came over him, and no act of penance could banish it. He listened to Lefevre's words, “Salvation is of grace.” “It is the cross of Christ alone that opens the gates of heaven and shuts the gates of hell.”2 LF 90.6

By a conversion like Paul's, Farel turned from the slavery of tradition to the liberty of the sons of God. “Instead of having the murderous heart of a prowling wolf,” he came back, he says, “quietly like a meek and harmless lamb, with his heart entirely withdrawn from the pope and given to Jesus Christ.”3 LF 91.1

While Lefevre spread the light among students, Farel went out to preach the truth in public. A dignitary of the church, the bishop of Meaux, soon united with them. Other teachers joined in proclaiming the gospel, and it won followers from the homes of craftsmen and peasants to the palace of the king. The sister of Francis I accepted the reformed faith. With high hopes the Reformers looked forward to the time when France would be won to the gospel. LF 91.2