Peter Waldo, the founder of the Waldenses, was a wealthy merchant of Lyons. This was in the 12th century A.D., and he lived in the fullest enjoyment of his opulence, till he was shaken out of his careless condition in the following way. One evening, while at supper with a party of friends, a friend suddenly fell lifeless to the floor. This shocking fatality exerted so powerful an influence over him that he resolved to give his attention entirely to the salvation of his soul. In the language of the Lord, he determined to “seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness.”
There was, in those dark ages, no evangelic ministry that he might attend, and he knew of no one who could point out to him the “way of salvation.” The Roman Catholic priests, instead of having “compassion on the ignorant and them that are out of the way,” were themselves densely ignorant and widely “out of the way.” But, fortunately, his attention was turned to the Holy Scriptures, and he applied himself diligently to learn from them the way of life and peace. He read for himself from the Vulgate, in Latin, God’s way of salvation and remedy for sin. He also employed learned men to translate the Gospels and other portions of the sacred Scriptures into the language of the people, so that every man might read for himself, in “the tongue wherein he was born, the wonderful works of God.”
In this way he got to understand clearly the simple gospel of God, and found abiding peace for his soul. The fruits of his faith soon became manifest. He distributed his wealth to the poor, and sought to gather a company of men, who would give themselves wholly to the spread of the gospel among the neglected multitudes. For this purpose he had multiplied copies of the Scriptures in the Romance languages (the art of printing had not yet been invented), which from the Gospels and other portions soon extended to the whole Bible. He, with his fellow-workers, displayed great zeal and devotion in this blessed work.
But an influential union of laymen, associated for the purpose of preaching to the people, could not long escape opposition and persecution from the Roman Catholic church. The archbishop of Lyons forbade Peter Waldo and his companions to expound the Scriptures and to preach. But Waldo and his co-workers declared that they were bound to obey God rather than man, and persevered in the work they had begun.
The anathema of the Pope in Rome soon drove Waldo from Lyons. His flock were scattered, and ‘went everywhere preaching the Word.’ Many of them found asylum in the valleys of Piedmont, where they took with them their new translation of the Bible. They united with others of the same faith, and are known in history as the Waldenses, or Vaudois. Waldo himself, after many wanderings, carrying with him everywhere the glad tidings of salvation, and settled at length in Bohemia, where the fruit of his labors was see in the rapid extension in that country of the principles of the Reformation, and where, in the 14th century, as many as 80,000 persons are said to have been put to death ‘for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held.'”
This, in brief, is the story of the conversion and after-life of one called out from the rich and learned — the class of whom Scripture says “not many” such “are called.” Awakened in the midst of a scene of activity by the sudden cutting off of one of his companions, the rich merchant of Lyons was brought to see the uncertainty in which his own life hung, and his unpreparedness of soul for such a summons. He realized that God might at any moment say to him, as He had said to another rich man long before, “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee!” And when awakened, he enquired of the fountain-head of truth, “What must I do to be saved?” And there, in the Scriptures, “which testify of Christ,” he discovered the answer of God: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” This grace and love of God which then filled Waldo’s heart, caused him to employ his energies and means to make known to others what he had found in Jesus. Waldo became prominent in that class of which Scripture says, “They that turn many to righteousness, shall shine as the stars for ever and ever.”
Reader, let not this man, living in the “darkness of the Dark Ages,” rise up in the judgment to condemn you. He had no brother Andrew to “bring” him to Jesus; no evangelist Philip to “guide” him to the Lamb of God. There was no “messenger with him” — no “interpreter” to show unto him God’s righteousness as revealed in the gospel of His grace (John 1; Acts 8; Job 33). You have advantages and privileges he did not and could not have at the time in which he lived. Beware lest when these souls, saved in the bygone ages of medieval darkness, sit down in the kingdom of God, you find yourself “thrust out!”