Pablo Besson – For the Gospel and Religious Freedom

Pablo Besson – For the Gospel and Religious Freedom

Besson’s greatest impact, however, was through his faithful preaching, constantly pointing his listeners to Christ and clearly distinguishing between law and gospel, and through his translation of the New Testament from Greek to Spanish, which continued to be used for generations. This translation was published as a single volume in 1919 and it was the first Bible translated in Latin America from the original languages.

From an Inherited Religion to an Understanding of the Gospel

Besson was born in Nod, canton of Berne, Switzerland, in 1848. His father Edward was a Reformed pastor who also served the community as a physician (he had studied both medicine and theology). His mother, Elisa Revel, was a descendant of Waldensians and told her son many stories of her predecessors’ heroism and faith in persecution. Since Paul was the only child, Edward prayed fervently that he might dedicate his life to God’s service.

With this prospect in mind, after finishing his basic studies, Paul moved on to an academy in nearby Neuchatel. Fearing that he would find his life too easy, Edward required his son to work part-time. In spite of this additional commitment, Paul finished with flying colors and continued his studies at Neuchâtel Theological College.

Everything was going well and Paul was excelling in every way. His biographer, …, illustrated the dangers of the ensuing self-satisfaction: “He began to feel satisfied with himself and full of that intellectual pride which is so natural at twenty years of age, when everything seems to be known.”[1] Later in life, Paul described himself as “a perfect pharisee.”[2]

It was the family’s cook, who had worked in the Besson home for years and had seen Paul grow up, that woke him up to his true condition. “You are missing something. You are missing something,” she repeated. “You are missing the main thing.”[3]

At first, Paul dismissed her warning and her encouragement to place his full trust in Christ crucified. After all, she was a cook and he was a theology student! But her words continued to ring in his mind.

It was a little later, at the University of Leipzig, Germany, that a Lutheran professor, Christoph Ernst Luthardt, impressed on Paul the full meaning of the gospel and justification by faith alone – something he never forgot.

The Free Church

Besson concluded his studies at the University of Basel, Switzerland, and was ordained in the Presbyterian Church in 1870. After this, he supplied pulpits until April 1871, when he accepted a call as a pastor at Liniers, Neuchâtel.

By then, however, the state had been infringing for some time on the rights of the church in virtue of the fact that they were government-funded. At the same time, there was a proliferation of teachers who openly contested the validity of Scriptures. Ferdinand Buisson, for example, president of the National Association of Freethinkers, attacked the use of the Old Testament in schools because it “favored superstition and corrupted the youth.”[4]

In 1873, Freethinkers won a victory by convincing the government to modify its constitution so that every citizen could be a member of the church by virtue of his birth, without a confession of faith, and ministers could be allowed on any pulpit apart from subscription to any creed. In response, 27 out of the 47 pastors in Neuchâtel conservative pastors left the church, starting a new denomination, known as the Free Evangelical Church of Neuchâtel.

Besson was one of the dissenting pastors, but his congregation chose to stay with the established church. Because of this, he accepted a call from two pastors in Lyon, France, to help to evangelize the area. There, he challenged the municipal rules that forbade the sale of Bibles and the distribution of tracts, and was briefly imprisoned twice.

It was around this time that he met some Baptists who persuaded him to join their denomination. He did, working for six years with the Boston Baptist Mission in northern France and Belgium. Floris, who later invited him to move to Argentina, was one of his congregants.

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