From Here to Forever


Chapter 12—Daybreak in France

The Protest of Spires and the Confession at Augsburg were followed by years of conflict and darkness. Weakened by divisions, Protestantism seemed destined to be destroyed. HF 133.1

But in the moment of his apparent triumph, the emperor was smitten with defeat. He was forced at last to grant toleration to the doctrines which it had been the ambition of his life to destroy. He saw his armies wasted by battle, his treasuries drained, his many kingdoms threatened by revolt, while everywhere the faith he had endeavored to suppress was extending. Charles V had been battling against omnipotent power. God had said, “Let there be light,” but the emperor had sought to keep the darkness unbroken. Worn out with the long struggle, he abdicated the throne and buried himself in a cloister. HF 133.2

In Switzerland, while many cantons accepted the reformed faith, others clung to the creed of Rome. Persecution gave rise to civil war. Zwingli and many who had united in 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 laborers to carry forward the reform. HF 133.3

In France, one of the first to catch the light was Lefevre, a professor in the University of Paris. In his researches into ancient literature, his attention was directed to the Bible, and he introduced its study among his students. He had undertaken 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 he might obtain assistance from the Bible, he began its study. Here indeed he found saints, but not such as figured in the Roman [Catholic Church] calendar. In disgust he turned away from his self-appointed task and devoted himself to the Word of God. HF 133.4

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 to eternal life.”1 And while teaching that the glory of salvation belongs solely to God, he also declared that the duty of obedience belongs to man. HF 134.1

Some among Lefevre's students listened eagerly to his words and long after the teacher's voice was silenced, continued to declare the truth. Such was William Farel. The son of pious parents and a devoted Romanist, he burned with zeal to destroy all who should dare to oppose the church. “I would gnash my teeth like a furious wolf,” he afterward said, “when I heard anyone speaking against the pope.” But adoration of the saints, worshiping at the altars, and adorning with gifts the holy shrines could not bring peace of soul. Conviction of sin fastened upon him, which all acts of penance failed to banish. He listened to Lefevre's words: “Salvation is of grace.” “It is the cross of Christ alone that openeth the gates of heaven, and shutteth the gates of hell.”2 HF 134.2

By a conversion like that of Paul, Farel turned from the bondage of tradition to the liberty of the sons of God. “Instead of the murderous heart of a ravening wolf,” he came back, he says, “quietly like a meek and harmless lamb, having his heart entirely withdrawn from the pope, and given to Jesus Christ.”3 HF 134.3

While Lefevre spread the light among students, Farel went forth to declare 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 adherents from the homes of artisans 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 should be won to the gospel. HF 134.4