The second in a series on the lives of men who lived for God.
When considering the Heroes of the Faith we are fully aware that the Lord Himself will evaluate the well known and the unknown. As one star differs from another in the vast expanse above us, so with the heroes of faith. In our previous consideration, we chose a beloved pioneer from the land of Scotland. In this mediation, we are traveling to the southeastern part of France, to the 1400-1500s, and William Farel.
The Farel family lived in a beautiful country setting, near the mighty Alps. They were Roman Catholic. William Farel was born in 1489, one of five sons. We do well to have a Selah, and ponder in our hearts the heritage from men of the William Farel caliber. Two years before William Farel was born, the edict from Rome was to hunt down a little remnant of Christians and trample them under foot as venomous serpents. In such circumstances (not unlike Moses) William Farel was born.
From his earliest days, William Farel had desires to study Latin, much against his fathers wishes. However, William eventually went to Paris where he would acquire Latin and advance in his religious aspirations. It was a shock to him when he witnessed the travesty of religion and its sin, pleasure, and corruption in Paris. The clergy in general were corrupt and totally devoid of truth. But writing on the dark canvas of human depravity, the Spirit of God was working and preparing a vessel unto honor. William formed a close friendship with a very devout religionist by the name of Master Faber. William observed this man in his deep devotions (though sadly misled). In the kindness of God this was the link in the chain of events that would lead him to the only Savior. However, it was through some unknown channel that William first heard of the value of the death of Christ. This first ray of truth from the glory made all else seem dark and dim. This truth perplexed young William, for he reasoned that if the death of Christ, and that only, saves the sinner who trusts in Him, of what value are works, alms, prayers, and devotions? William went to Master Faber for answers. This resulted in Master Faber gathering his idols and casting them away once and forever and expressing in clear language, We must worship God alone. Shortly thereafter William saw nothing but Jesus only. This truth buried itself deep in his heart and he became a missionary to the lost and perishing. To Master Faber and William Farel, the year 1519 was a year never to be forgotten. This was a new beginning for William, although tests of faith were inevitable.
William Farel could have easily become a follower of Martin Luther. But how marvelous to observe that, instead of following Luther, he went as far as exposing the errors that Luther and others had written and propagated. William Farel learned as he stood against the erroneous teachings of great men that one is your Master, even Christ. Amazing to ponder that, in those dark days when light was just beginning to dawn, one man was convicted that the Authority of the Scriptures was supreme, and obedience to the Word of God was all-important. Otherwise, he says, we must be reeds shaken with the wind, whereas we ought to be firm on Christ, knowing for certain that we have His Word for everything. William also remarked that such is the power of the Word, when preached purely and simply, that they that oppose it will feel its force. Alas! Paris rejected the word and William Farel left this city. But Farel had dropped a live coal from off the altar which pricked a young man, and resulted in a later day Paris opening up for the reception of William Farel and the gospel.
This hero of faith moved onward for His Master and Lord and God blessed abundantly through his plain and powerful preaching. The evidence of the power of the gospel was manifested when the city of Meaux, known for its blasphemy, drunkenness, and quarreling, was changed to the praise and worship of Christ only – this was a miracle from God.
Farels great objective in his toils and labors was to see not only Christ trusted as Savior but also Christ obeyed as Lord. William Farel had soon found himself in a path of loneliness. It had been hard for him to leave father and mother, priests, and teachers, but much more difficult to turn away from Master Faber, who had been one of Gods messengers to bring light and peace to his soul. Master Faber reasoned, Can I not be in Rome and not of it? William Farel sought to go by the Word only, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.
This courageous servant of God had to continue his work of preaching the pure gospel having no certain dwelling place; he took on likeness to His Master in this respect. At times his heart was saddened when he had to leave a little band of Christians in various places where he labored, placing them in the Lords keeping. Amazing to observe that in the midst of persecution no one laid hands on him. He was immortal until his work was done. But how true, man at the best is only man at best, and if there was a fault that William Farel had, it was at times the lack of the meekness and gentleness of Christ. The wickedness of the day demanded fearless denunciation of evil and this dear worker became a little overzealous in his ambitions to stamp out the evil. But God honored His beloved servant, for in his zeal he had Gods honor at heart. His motives were pure!
He was one of the most hated men in his day and his hiding place, David-like, was in the woods, in the clefts of the rock, and from cave to cave in those towering mountains of the Alps. He faced deaths oft, also loneliness and suffering, but the cause of Christ must prevail and souls must be delivered from the dark shackles of a system that was taking souls to everlasting doom! Farel, by many, was thought to be narrow-minded, and was hated by Erasmus, the brilliant Greek scholar. However, we must remember that Erasmus was a humanist, and one has well said of Erasmus that he believed in College but not in Calvary. But for Farel the Word of God was enough.
When we review the great heroes of the 15th century, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and others, Farel, the layman, eclipsed them all in many ways, and in particular, in his obedience to the Word of God. Where this man shone was in his defense of the Scriptures, his plain and powerful answers to the adversaries, and his courage to stand with his face to the foe! He loved Christ and His Word; he labored in France and Switzerland and left thousands well instructed in the truth. When things seem desperate, he said then is the time for faith to rest in God. He said on another occasion, Faith looks at nothing but the fathomless depths of the goodness of God.
William Farel was banished from Geneva in 1542 and he went to the city of Metz where he preached to upwards of 3000, often opposed by the monks. Blessing for eternity resulted. When a plague broke out in Metz and many fled the city, Farel stayed, and labored on in the midst of sickness, death, insult, and persecution! For forty years, this beloved servant of God labored night and day amongst the mountains and villages of Switzerland. He had seen the whole of French Switzerland, with a few exceptions, turn from idols to the living and true God. But his longing heart looked to his old home in the Alps where he first commenced to preach. In 1560, the old man set off with Bible and staff, and was soon preaching by the hillsides, in the fields, streets, and markets. One can almost visualize this undaunted saint with a clear voice sounding the silver trumpet of the gospel with crowds gathering to listen attentively. He was seized for the only crime, preaching the Bible, and imprisoned for a number of months, but escaped – another miracle in his lifes colorful experience. Like the flaming evangelist George Whitefield, Farel experienced hundreds awakened by the Spirit as they fastened their eyes on the preacher who spoke of the only Savior with power from God. With tears streaming down their cheeks, multitudes listened and believed! In his closing years, this noble warrior of the Cross said; I preach not to have disciples follow my teaching, but that some might with me become disciples of Jesus and Him crucified and own Him as Lord. There are Lutherans, Calvinists, Wesleyans, but no Farelites! Quote of William Farel, There is not a man upon earth, nor an angel in heaven, who can truthfully say that I have drawn disciples to myself and not to Jesus.What a testimony! He died on September 13th,1565, and those who visited him in his last days had a foretaste of heaven, which they would never forget. William Farel is among the unknown of earth but among the well-known in heaven. We remember this courageous saint, soul-winner, shepherd, and servant of God! We take our leave from him whose body lies in the churchyard of Neuchatel, awaiting the trumpet sound, blessed hope! Until the day-breaks and the shadows flee away, we say Farewell.