“The Path to Obedience” is the thirteenth chapter of Emma Frances Bevan’s (1827-1909), “True Stories of God’s Servants–William Farel.” You can read a brief biography of Bevan, here. Although I read this chapter for the first time just a day or two ago, this three-page chapter might be the most influential words I’ve ever ready, outside of Scripture. The life of William Farel is greatly impacting my own life.
My Introduction to William Farel
For those of you who are, as I was, unfamiliar with William Farel, this biographical glimpse (Source) into his life will give you a general idea as to who this great reformer was.
“William Farel (Guillaume Farel, 1489-1565) was a French evangelist, and a founder of the Reformed Church in the cantons of Neuchtel, Berne, Geneva, and the Canton of Vaud Switzerland. He is most often remembered for having persuaded John Calvin to remain in Geneva in 1536, and for persuading him to return there in 1541, after their expulsion in 1538. Together with Calvin, Farel worked to train missionary preachers who spread the Protestant cause to other countries, and especially to France.
“Farel was a fiery preacher and an energetic critic of the Roman Catholic Church. In the earliest years of the Reformation in France, he was a pupil of the pro-reform Catholic priest, Jacques Lefevre d’Etaples. While working with Lefevre in Meaux, he came under the influence of Lutheran ideas and became an avid promoter of them. He was forced to flee to Switzerland because of controversy that was aroused by his writings against the use of images in Christian worship.”
One afternoon last summer, after Bobby McCreery and I finished preaching outside St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, we walked down Fleet Street to the Protestant Truth Society’s Christian Bookshop. It was an amazingly warm and friendly little store filled from floor to ceiling with good books. The people who ran and served in the bookshop were blessed to hear that we were in their wonderful city heralding the gospel in the open-air. They were very supportive and gladly held the rope for us in prayer.
This bookshop was nothing like LifeWay or Family Christian in America–compromised retails chains that put dollars ahead of truth and care for their patrons. Bobby and I knew by the friends we made and the titles the shop carried that this was a place that was far more than a business. It was a ministry.
Like kids in a candy store, Bobby and I made our ways up and down the narrow aisles, “ooing and awing” as our eyes scanned the shelves. It was Bobby who introduced me to the Tentmaker Publications edition of Bevan’s biography, of William Farel. Bobby told me it should be on my “must read” list. So, with Bobby’s recommendation, I purchased the book.
Now, almost a year later, I’m finally getting around to reading it. I’m only a quarter-way through the book, but I can already affirm it as a “must read.”
In Part One of what will be a two-part article, I will introduce you to Chapter XIII of Bevan’s William Farel biography. It is reprinted here in its entirety. In Part Two, I will share some personal gleanings from the chapter.
I hope this encourages you!
The Path of Obedience
Strange at it may seem, this time, when the gospel was so freely preached, so eagerly listened to, and by so many truly believed, was not, after all, a time of unmixed happiness to William Farel.
Master Faber [the man who would preach the gospel to Farel and serve as his discipler] was filled with joy and hope. “How deeply does my heart rejoice,” he said, “when I see the pure knowledge of Christ thus spreading abroad! I can hope that our dear France will at last know the grace of God, for does not our gracious king himself consent that his people should read the word of God in their own language? Now, in this diocese at least, the gospel is read on Sundays and saints’ days, and expounded daily to the people, and simple souls delight to feed upon the blessed word.”
So far, William Farel could share the joy of his old master. He could rejoice that the gospel was preached, and that souls were saved. But, what then? Could he shut his eyes to the sad truth, that after all the mass was said, and the images filled the churches, the bishop wore the gorgeous vestments which man had invented, and all around, on every side, were sights and sounds to remind him how men had added to the word of God, and provoked him to anger with their own inventions! It was well that they should own Christ as the One Saviour, but were they owning Him as the One Lord? It was well the gospel was read on the saints’ days, but why were there saints’ days at all? Was Christ to be believed in by sinners, and not to be obeyed by saints?
William Farel was, therefore, not happy. And he was the more unhappy because nobody–at least no one who took a public part in preaching and teaching–saw these things as he did. Perhaps amongst the poor and unknown there were some who saw with him. From what followed it would appear that there were. But the bishop, and dear Master Faber, and Gerard and Arnold Roussel, must he break with them as to these matters, and own that even his old master was not following the Lord fully? They talked these things over together. We may gather from William Farel’s words what was said on either side. “Do not let us deceive ourselves,” he said, “thinking that we are doing right, when we are only following our own judgment. Let us follow neither our judgment, nor anything that is in ourselves, for the flesh is not changed, and we are not perfect. Let us look at the holy, pure, and perfect word of God, and ask help from our gracious Father to follow that. Let us beware of flattering ourselves with the thought that it is lawful to do what is right in our own eyes. For example, to conform to the ways of those with whom we live. I do not mean here a conformity of mind and of thought, but an outward conformity. Let us be careful not to conform outwardly in those things which concern the worship and service of God, when all is not done simply as God directs in His word. Do not let us say because such and such a thing is merely an outward form, it is a matter of indifference. If God has forbidden it, it is not a matter of indifference at all, and we are not to follow others in doing it. Do not say, I may kneel down before an image, provided that in my heart I am not worshipping it. That I may use words because others use them, if they are dishonouring to God. That I may outwardly observe festivals invented by Satan, provided that my heart is not in it. God asks for the true obedience of the heart, but He desires also this obedience should be shown by the outward act, by doing only that which He commands, even if every person besides in the whole world should do the contrary. Thus for no reason whatever ought I to neglect to hear the word of God, or to eat the Lord’s supper, or to cease to worship with the holy assembly of the Lord Jesus. If I am bound thus outwardly to do what God commands, I am equally bound to abstain from that which He has forbidden. I am not merely to make an open confession of Christ and His gospel; I am also to make an open renunciation of Anti-Christ, and of the assembly of Satan. And as far as I do not perform this promptly and openly, I ought to own before God that I have sinned, and ask His help that I may follow His holy commandments, with my soul, with my heart, with my mind, and with my body.”
“But cannot it be right,” was the argument of Faber and the Roussels, “that men should order such outward forms as are for the honour of God, so that He may be served with more holiness and reverence than it would be otherwise?”
“The flesh,” said William Farel, “will sometimes openly blaspheme God. But it is also the flesh–the deceitful heart–that contrives and invents new ways of worshipping and serving God. The flesh is at the bottom of all that is added on to the word of God, that is not to be found therein. The flesh makes sects, and rules, and institutions, and is a liar and deceiver in all that it does, pretending that it is holiness, and the love of God that is the motive. It deceives us into really believing this; therefore we ought to be very careful not to follow whatever professes to be of God, or seems to us to be of God. We must ‘try the spirits’ to know whether they are of God. For Satan can be transformed into an angel of light, and his ministers also, and more than all, the wisdom of the flesh. We ought, therefore, to prove everything by the holy word of God, and find out whether it is really from God, or from the flesh.”
“But if our intention is really good–if we are really sincere, doe not that make the action pleasing to God?”
“Our intention!” answered William, “look at Peter, with his good intention, by reason of which the Lord called him Satan. Look at king Saul, and the other kings, who worshipped God in the high places, as the patriarchs had done. Was God pleased with them? Such good intentions are the wisdom and prudence of the flesh, which always desires to be uppermost, and to rule, order, and arrange everything, thus getting praise and glory to itself, and despising that in which it has no hand. The Spirit, on the contrary, will not do a single thing, except by the express commandment of God. The Spirit will not say, ‘Now that times are changed we must change our course.’ No, not if great signs and miracles were to be done to prove it. Not if every person in the world stood in opposition. The Spirit would hold fast, without stirring a hair’s breadth, to the pure word of God, the word that endureth for ever. Let the world do as it likes, the Spirit will give this honour to God, who cannot lie, owning that all things that cannot be proved by His holy word are vanity and lies. But it is much better,” adds William, “to know by experience and practice than by reading it in a book, not to contradict or quench the Spirit in our ways and doings.”
William Farel had soon to make full experience himself of what it was to go forward in the solitary path of obedience. It had been hard for him at first to turn from the father and mother, the priests and the teachers, who had led him in the ways of idolatry. But it was far harder to turn away from Master Faber himself, who had been one of God’s messengers to bring light and peace to his soul. But if God had spoken plainly, He must be obeyed at all costs. It is written, “The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, the Lord knoweth them that are His.” Thus far Master Faber gladly admitted the truth. “Can I not be in Rome,” he thought, “and not of it? The Lord knoweth, in the midst of the evil, how to distinguish His own.” But William Farel remembered how this verse goes on; there is a second inscription on the seal of God. “Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” Not simply depart ourselves from a course of sin, but in this passage we are commanded further, and specially, to depart from those who are “vessels of dishonour” in that which bears the name of the house of God, to break off all connection with that which is dishonouring to His holy name. If Master Faber had not the faith and courage thus to act, it was plain that he and William Farel could no longer walk in the same path–the holy path of separation from evil. William must go forward without him.
In Part Two
As mentioned earlier in this article, in Part Two I will share some of my personal gleanings from what you just read. I have been able to think of little else beyond the truths (meaning: “thoughts consistent with the truth of Scripture”) contained in this chapter, in a biography about William Farel. I know now that there are changes, separations I must make in my life, for the glory of God and for the sake of my walk with my Lord Jesus Christ.
More to come…..