Part 1: Early Exploits
O give thanks unto the LORD; call upon his name: make known his deeds among the people. Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him: talk ye of all his wondrous works. Glory ye in his holy name: let the heart of them rejoice that seek the LORD. Seek the LORD, and his strength: seek his face evermore. Remember his marvellous works that he hath done; his wonders, and the judgments of his mouth; O ye seed of Abraham his servant, ye children of Jacob his chosen. He is the LORD our God: his judgments are in all the earth. (Psalm 105:1-5)
It is a pity, if not a tragedy that Protestant Christians have so little knowledge of their glorious heritage! We do not “remember His marvellous works” or “talk of His wonders” because we do not know them. There was a time when books were expensive, and yet every Christian home had a Bible and Foxe's Book of Martyrs. It is not so today. Yet there has never been a time when the recounting of God's mighty work in sixteenth century Europe has been more needed.
The man who is the subject of our attention tonight is virtually unknown. Long ago, as a young Christian, I heard of the following incident:
“In the summer of 1536 a young preacher came to the house of Viret in Geneva, intending to stop there for only a night. He had been in Italy and was on the way to Basle where he had spent some time as an exile from France. Some one—Du Tillet or Caroli—discovered him, and went and brought Farel to see him. He was already in high repute as the author of the Institutes of the Christian Religion, and Farel met, for the first time, John Calvin, from the country of his noble friends, Lefèvre and Olivetan. Farel thought what Beza afterwards said, 'God conducted him hither,' and was resolved to secure his services in that city. He at once presented the case to the guest of Viret.
'I cannot bind myself to any one church,' says Calvin, 'but I would endeavor to be useful to all. I have my plan for study before me, and I am not one of those who can afford to be always giving without receiving.'
'Now,' said Farel, with that manner and voice which filled thousands with awe, 'I declare to you, in the name of the Almighty God—to you who only put forth your studies as a pretence—that if you will not help us to carry on this work of God, the curse of God will rest upon you, for you will be seeking your own honor rather than that of Christ.'
The conscience of the young traveler was so touched that he never forgot it. Toward the close of his life he said, 'As I was kept in Geneva, not properly by an express exhortation or request, but rather by the terrible threatenings of William Farel, which were as if God had seized me by his awful hand from heaven, so was I compelled, through the terror thus inspired, to give up the plan of my journey'.”
This is all that I knew about the man for many years. Who is William Farel? I say “is” and not “was” for I have no doubt that he lives before God, among those who have earned their everlasting rest. I will try to give you just a glimpse of this hero of the faith tonight.
Here is Philip Schaff's assessment:
“The pioneer of Protestantism in Western Switzerland is William Farel. He was a travelling evangelist, always in motion, incessant in labors, a man full of faith and fire, as bold and fearless as Luther and far more radical, but without his genius. He is called the Elijah of the French Reformation, and 'the scourge of the priests.' Once an ardent papist, he became as ardent a Protestant... he felt himself divinely called, like a prophet of old, to break down idolatry and to clear the way for the spiritual worship of God according to his own revealed word.
He was a born fighter; he came, not to bring peace, but the sword. He had to deal with priests who carried firearms and clubs under their frocks, and he fought them with the sword of the word and the spirit. Once he was fired at, but the gun burst, and, turning round, he said, 'I am not afraid of your shots.' He never used violence himself, except in language. He had an indomitable will and power of endurance. Persecution and violence only stimulated him to greater exertions. His outward appearance was not prepossessing: he was small and feeble, with a pale but sunburnt face, narrow forehead, red and ill-combed beard, fiery eyes, and an expressive mouth.
Farel had some of the best qualities of an orator: a sonorous and stentorian voice, appropriate gesture, fluency of speech, and intense earnestness, which always commands attention and often produces conviction. His contemporaries speak of the thunders of his eloquence and of his transporting prayers. His sermons were extemporized, and have not come down to us. Their power lay in the oral delivery. We may compare him to Whitefield, who was likewise a travelling evangelist, endowed with the magnetism of living oratory. In Beza’s opinion, Calvin was the most learned, Farel the most forcible, Viret the most gentle preacher of that age.
The chief defect of Farel was his want of moderation and discretion. He was an iconoclast. His violence provoked unnecessary opposition, and often did more harm than good. Oecolampadius praised his zeal, but besought him to be also moderate and gentle. 'Your mission,' he wrote to him, 'is to evangelize, not to curse. Prove yourself to be an evangelist, not a tyrannical legislator. Men want to be led, not driven.' Zwingli, shortly before his death, exhorted him not to expose himself rashly, but to reserve himself for the further service of the Lord.
"… He was a conqueror, but not an organizer of his conquests; a man of action, not a man of letters; an intrepid preacher, not a theologian. He felt his defects, and handed his work over to the mighty genius of his younger friend Calvin. In the spirit of genuine humility and self-denial, he was willing to decrease that Calvin might increase. This is the finest trait in his character.”
D'aubigny describes the character of the young Farel this way:
“God had bestowed rare qualities on William Farel, such as were fitted to give him a great ascendency over his fellows. Possessing a penetrating mind and lively imagination, sincere and upright, having a greatness of soul that never allowed him, at whatever risk, to betray the convictions of his heart, he was remarkable also for ardour, fire, indomitable courage, and daring, which never shrunk from any obstacle. But, at the same time, he had all the defects allied to these qualities; and his parents were often compelled to check his impetuosity.”
He then compares Farel with Luther, as follows:
“Of all the reformers, Farel and Luther are perhaps those whose early spiritual developments are best known to us, and who had to pass through the greatest struggles. Quick and ardent, men of conflict and strife, they underwent the severest trials before attaining peace. Farel is the pioneer of the Reformation in France and Switzerland; he rushes into the wood, and hews down the aged giants of the forest with his axe. Calvin came after, like Melancthon, from whom he differs indeed in character, but whom he resembles in his part as theologian and organizer. These two men, who have something in common with the legislators of antiquity,—the one in its graceful, the other in its severe style,—built up, settled, and gave laws to the territory conquered by the first two reformers.”
As I have read and re-read the history of Farel, I have been struck with Farel's resemblance to the Apostle Paul. Like Paul, who “after the most straitest sect of his religion lived a Pharisee” before his conversion, and afterward became the most zealous for Christ, Farel was changed from a fanatical Papist into a zealot for the gospel. Both were rejected and persecuted by their native countries, while never losing their love for kin and homeland, and ever after seeking their benefit. The zeal of Paul, the willingness to expose himself to severe abuse and violence over and over again, his patient continuance and determination, his great faith in the inevitable triumph of truth – in all these the character of William Farel is reminiscent of the great Apostle to the gentiles.
Early Life and Conversion
Philip Schaff gives us the following account of his origins:
“Guillaume Farel, the oldest of seven children of a poor but noble family, was born in the year 1489 (five years after Luther and Zwingli, twenty years before Calvin) at Gap, a small town in the alps of Dauphiné in the south-east of France, where the religious views of the Waldenses were once widely spread. He inherited the blind faith of his parents, and doubted nothing. He made with them, as he remembered in his old age, a pilgrimage to a wonder-working cross which was believed to be taken from the cross of our Lord. He shared in the superstitious veneration of pictures and relics, and bowed before the authority of monks and priests. He was, as he said, more popish than popery.
At the same time he had a great thirst for knowledge, and was sent to school at Paris. Here he studied the ancient languages (even Hebrew), philosophy, and theology. His principal teacher, Jacques Le Fèvre (1455–1536), the pioneer of the Reformation in France and translator of the Scriptures, introduced him into the knowledge of Paul’s Epistles and the doctrine of justification by faith, and prophetically told him, already in 1512: 'My son, God will renew the world, and you will witness it. 'Farel acquired the degree of Master of Arts (January, 1517), and was appointed teacher at the college of Cardinal Le Moine.”
His conversion involved a deep struggle, as it often does in men who are conscientiously committed to error. Farel could not do anything by halves. If Romanism was false, he would have to forsake it all, regardless of the cost. If it was true, he could not betray it. He was a man of unquestioned integrity. Sums of money were often entrusted to him for distribution to the poor. His devotion to the practices of Popery was sincere and he took pleasure in fasts and prayers and all the rituals of Rome because he thought they pleased God. But he studied Hebrew and Greek diligently, that he might understand the Bible. LeFevre kept pointing him to the Scriptures; and at length he gave up the defense of his errors and submitted to the truth.
William Blackburn writes:
“When about thirty years of age, Farel could no longer have a good conscience and remain in the Romish church. He forsook her communion, with a feeling of abhorrence toward himself and of the errors in which he had so long been enthralled. Not far from this time he was recommended by Lefèvre and elected to a professorship in the celebrated college founded by Cardinal Lemoine, one of the four principal colleges of the theological faculty in Paris, equal in rank to the Sorbonne. He soon became the regent, an honor which had always been given to men of learning and eminence. He filled the office with great credit to all concerned, during the short time that a persecution was preparing, and his name was held in delightful remembrance by his colleagues and students.”
A Leading Reformer
Being a man of great heart and indomitable will, Farel immediately distinguished himself as a leader among the Reformed Christians in Paris. His testimony was bold and uncompromising. It was not long before he was in trouble. The aged LeFevre suffered daily attacks by his enemies at the Sorbonne, the bastion of Roman theology. His life was in danger. He fled to Meaux, where the Bishop, Briconnet, was busy reforming his diocese. There LeFevre began his work of translating the New Testament into French.
When LeFevre escaped the wrath of the Sorbonne, they turned their guns on the remaining reformers. It was not long before Farel and his friends also found it necessary to escape to Meaux, which was fast becoming the center of the evangelization of France. Soon, opposition arose from the Franciscans in Meaux, who joining hands with the Sorbonne, moved the French Parliament to crush the reform in Meaux. The Bishop had not the courage to resist, and forsook the Reformation to save his life. He agreed to persecute the cause that he had boldly advocated before. This was in 1523. All was now changed.
LeFevre was once again attacked, and only escaped because of the King's intervention.
According to D'aubigne:
“Farel, who had not so many protectors at court, was compelled to leave Meaux. It would appear that he first repaired to Paris; and that, having unsparingly attacked the errors of Rome, he could remain there no longer, and was forced to retire to Dauphiny, whither he was eager to carry the Gospel.” [Dauphiny was his homeland.]
Flight to Switzerland
While at home, he labored for the conversion of his family, and won his brothers to the Reformed faith. Not stopping with that, he approached his friends and neighbors, and soon was preaching throughout the district anywhere he could get an audience. The persecution became hot, and he was sought everywhere; but he escaped at last over the Swiss border into Basle, where he met up with the great Swiss Reformer, Oecolampadius, forming a friendship that would last a lifetime.
The celebrated Erasmus was also at Basle, but he was busy cultivating the favor of Rome, and had little to do with the poor Protestant refugees from France. Erasmus, who had played such a crucial role in the start of the Reformation with his attack on the immoral clergy, and his publication of the first printed Textus Receptus, subsequently turned his back on that Reformation, attacked its leaders, and made peace with Rome. He resented the boldness of Farel, which threatened to bring persecution on all who befriended him. Farel, on his part, despised the cowardice of Erasmus, and made no secret of it. Erasmus confronted Farel, accusing the latter of having called him a ”Balaam” (who helped Israel's enemy for money). Farel denied having used that word, but Erasmus began to press him on what he deemed his extreme and dangerous positions. The result was not favorable to Erasmus, for he was plainly worsted in the ensuing debate.
It was in Basle that Farel received ordination to the ministry by Oecolampadius. He then returned into France to aid his comrades in spreading the gospel. Blackburn describes his leadership role in this way:
“He was, at Montbeliard, 'like a general on a hill, whose piercing eye glances over the field of battle, cheering those who are actively engaged with the foe, rallying those ranks which are broken by an impetuous charge, and animating those who hang back through fear.' Behind him were Basle and Strasburg, as a base of operations, whence he drew his supplies of tracts and books.
The refugees at Basle were forming a Tract and Bible Society, and raising up colporteurs (travelling booksellers) to scatter the truth through France. The presses then were constantly occupied in printing French books, and these were sent to Farel, who put them into the hands of book-hawkers, and these simple-hearted men passed through the country, calling at almost every door. Anemond was a true chevalier in this good work, which was moving forward with such strength that Erasmus was on the rage, and the Sorbonne in alarm. He sent to Farel all the useful books he could get, and one of his large plans was for Farel to use the pen, while he raised a fund and a force to work the presses, day and night, and thus flood all France with the truth. He was anxious to see the New Testament printed in French, and widely circulated in the provinces.
At the urgent advice of his friends Farel wrote several small books, among which was 'A summary of what a Christian ought to know, in order to trust God, and serve his neighbor.' The last one passed through several large editions, and was widely circulated.”
At this time, a great disruption occurred. The Emperor Charles V defeated the King of France. Blackburn relates:
“The work of the spiritual army was greatly disturbed by the defeat of the royal army at Pavia, in February 1525. The king was taken prisoner and was on the way to Madrid... All France was full of mourning, and the Romanists began to declare that this great disaster was provoked by Heaven, because the new doctrines had been tolerated in the kingdom. The 'heretics' must be expelled! People and parliament, church and throne, joined hand in hand to banish the gospel... The camp was broken up; the forces scattered, and the cause seemed to be lost.
Nor was this all. Another strong force was leaving the field where there had been such great success. Farel was pulling up his stakes at Montbeliard. It has been hinted that Erasmus, whose anger still burned against him, may have done much to excite a persecution too bitter for him to endure. But another reason has been given by those who lament that Farel’s warlike zeal sometimes carried too far, and brought unnecessary opposition against him.
One day, about the time of the king’s defeat at Pavia, Farel was walking on the banks of a little river that runs through Montbeliard, beneath a lofty rock on which the citadel is built. It was the day of the feast of saint Anthony, and when he came to the bridge he met a procession which was crossing it, and headed by two priests bearing the pretended image of the saint. Farel suddenly found himself face to face with these superstitions, without seeking it.
A violent struggle took place in his soul. His blood boiled at the sight of such a delusion practiced upon the people. Should he give way? Should he hide himself? Should he gaze and be silent? He could not be a coward, and would not let his silence give consent to the imposture. He knew that he was exposing himself to the fate of Leclerc, yet he boldly advanced, grasped the image of the holy hermit from the arms of the priest, and tossed it over the bridge into the rivers—as bold a deed as that of the Chevalier Bayard when he stayed an army at the bridge of the Garigliano. Then turning to the awe-stricken crowd he exclaimed, 'Poor idolaters, will ye never cease from your idolatry!”
The priests stood confused and motionless. With the loss of their saint, they lost their presence of mind. Their superstitious fear seemed to rivet them to the spot. But someone cried out, 'the image is drowning!' The priests recovered from their stupor. The multitudes shouted in rage, and gazed at the image floating away. Farel let them gaze and rave, and taking advantage of their devout attention to the saint, he escaped their violence. For a time he hid himself among his friends.
The duke and his court soon left the city, and having no strong arm to defend him, Farel had an additional reason for leaving Montbeliard. In the spring he took a secret refuge at Basle. He always took an interest in the church he had left, as a minister will ever do in the flock where were gathered the first-fruits of his labors. But being denied official permission to return, he went instead to Strasburg, where he preached to the French exiles there for 15 months, before being called to Berne, in German-speaking Switzerland.”
D'aubigne describes the situation at the beginning of the Swiss reformation:
“The history of the Swiss Reformation is divided into three periods, in which the light of the Gospel is seen spreading successively over three different zones. From 1519 to 1526 Zurich was the centre of the Reformation, which was then entirely German, and was propagated in the eastern and northern parts of the Confederation. Between 1526 and 1532 the movement was communicated from Berne: it is at once German and French, and extended to the centre of Switzerland from the gorges of the Jura to the deepest valleys of the Alps. In 1532 Geneva became the focus of the light; and the Reformation, which was here essentially French, was established on the shores of the Leman lake, and gained strength in every quarter. It is of the second of these periods—that of Berne—of which we are now to treat.
Although the Swiss Reformation is not yet essentially French, still the most active part in it is taken by Frenchmen. Switzerland is yoked to the chariot of Reform, and communicates to it an accelerated motion. In the period we are about to treat of, there is a mixture of races, of forces, and of characters, from which proceeds a greater commotion. In no part of the Christian world will the resistance be so stubborn; but nowhere will the assailants display so much courage. This petty country of Switzerland Romande, enclosed within the colossal arms of the Jura and the Alps, was for centuries one of the strongest fortresses of the Papacy. It is about to be carried by storm; it is going to turn its arms against its ancient masters; and from these few hillocks, scattered at the foot of the highest mountains in Europe, will proceed the reiterated shocks that will overthrow, even in the most distant countries, the sanctuaries of Rome, their images and their altars.”
The Swiss Campaign Begins
Farel begins his Swiss campaign in a little town called Aigle, in the most unimpressive manner, as Blackburn relates:
“To this small town, in December 1526, a man was making his way, on foot and in the rain. He wished to conceal his name, for he was one whom persecution had made an exile from France. He was of middle stature, with red beard, quick eyes, fearless face, and the step of a native mountaineer... With him walked a single friend. Night closed around them, and the rain fell heavy and cold. They lost their path, a very dangerous thing for Alpine travelers on whom the snow might be falling before morning. Drenched and chilled, they sat down almost in despair. 'Ah!' said the chief one, 'God, by showing me my helplessness in these little things, has willed to teach me how weak I am in the greatest, without Jesus Christ.'
'It is no little thing to be lost,' we imagine the other replying. 'We shall perish if we stay here.'
'Let us perish then trying to find our way.' Then rising, they bent forward on their dark journey, feeling for stepping places among the rocks, plunging through bogs, wading through the waters, crossing vineyards, fields, hills, forests and valleys, and, at length, dripping with rain and covered with mud, they reached the village of Aigle.
He assumed a new name, hoping, as he afterwards said, 'by pious frauds to circumvent the old serpent that was hissing around him.' He represented himself to be a schoolmaster—Ursinus—and he waited for a door to be opened that he might appear as a reformer.
Ursinus gathered the children and began his work with no fixed salary. His modest lessons were mingled with new and strange doctrines. His scholars wondered when he told them of the good book and the great God who gave it, the true cross and the Lord of glory who died upon it. They had something to believe, to tell, to expand their minds and elevate their souls. The teacher was encouraged; by feeding the Savior’s lambs, he would soon have sheep to feed.
When the day’s work was done, Master Ursinus left the schoolroom and the primers, and took refuge in his poorly furnished lodging place. It became a palace, for the Bible was the light thereof. He applied himself, with absorbing interest, to the Greek and Hebrew Scriptures, and the few works of learned theologians that he had brought with him.
Master Ursinus went a step farther in his work. He cautiously set about teaching the parents as well as the children. He showed them that purgatory was a mere invention, there was no such place. Then he exposed the delusion practiced in the invocation of the saints...
Thus he went on teaching in a quiet way for some months. A flock gathered around him, loving the good man, who did more for them than anyone had dreamed of doing before. If they were puzzled by the thought that one so great should come among them in their out-of-the-way corner, it was all explained by his simple goodness of heart. And he told them of Him who condescended from heaven to earth, from the throne to a manger, from the crown to the cross, and they understood and believed. He thought the looked-for moment had come, and he might tell them who he was, and what was his mission. 'I am William Farel, minister of God,' said he one day.
The villagers thought none the more nor any the less of him for that. It was to them like any other unheard-of name. But the priests and magistrates were in amazement and terror. They had heard of William Farel. They now saw among them that very man whose name had already become so fearful. They dared not do anything but let him have his way. Nor did he consult with flesh and blood. He had quietly taken the tower; now he would take the town by a bold movement. He ascended the pulpit, and openly preached Jesus Christ to the astonished multitude. The work of Ursinus was over; Farel was himself again.”
Conquest of Neuchatel
A fierce contest followed, but when the dust settled, Popery had met defeat, and Aigle had been won for Christ. Farel moved on to evangelize other cities and towns in French-speaking Switzerland. One of these was Neuchatel. D'aubigne writes:
“The people of Neuchatel had a great respect for ancient rights, and it was easy to take advantage of this state of feeling, considering the general ignorance, to maintain the innovations of Popery. The canons improved the opportunity. For the instructions of the Gospel they substituted pomps and shows. The church, situated on a steep rock, was filled with altars, chapels, and images of saints; and religion, descending from this sanctuary, ran up and down the streets, and was travestied in dramas and mysteries, mingled with indulgences, miracles, and debauchery.
The soldiers of Neuchatel, however, who had made the campaign of 1529 with the Bernese army, brought back to their homes the liveliest enthusiasm for the Evangelical cause. It was at this period that a frail boat, quitting the southern bank of the lake, on the side opposite Morat, and carrying a Frenchman of mean appearance, steered towards the Neuchatel shore. Farel, for it was he, had learnt that the village of Serrière, situated at the gates of Neuchatel, depended in spiritualities on the evangelical city of Bienne, and that Emer Beynon, the priest of the place, 'had some liking for the Gospel.' The plan of his campaign was immediately drawn up. He appeared before parson Emer, who received him with joy; but what could be done? for Farel had been interdicted from preaching in any church whatever in the earldom. The poor priest thought to reconcile everything by permitting Farel to mount on a stone in the cemetery, and thus preach to the people, turning his back upon the church.
A great disturbance arose in Neuchatel. On one side the government, the canons, and the priests, cried 'Heresy!' but, on the other, 'some inhabitants of Neuchatel, to whom God had given a knowledge of the truth,' flocked to Serrière. In a short time these last could not contain themselves: 'Come,' said they to Farel, 'and preach to us in the town.'
This was at the beginning of December. They entered by the gate of the castle, and leaving the church on the hill to the left, they passed in front of the canons' houses, and descended through the narrow streets inhabited by the citizens. On reaching the market-cross, Farel ascended a platform and addressed the crowd, which gathered together from all the neighbourhood,—weavers, vine-dressers, husbandmen, a worthy race, possessing more feeling than imagination. The preacher's exterior was grave, his discourse energetic, his voice like thunder: his eyes, his features, his gestures, all showed him a man of intrepidity. The citizens, accustomed to run about the streets after the mountebanks, were touched by his powerful language. 'Farel preached a sermon of such great efficacy,' says a manuscript, 'that he gained over much people.'
Some monks, however, with shaven crowns, glided among his hearers, seeking to excite them against the heretical minister. 'Let us beat out his brains,' said some. 'Duck him, duck him!' cried others, advancing to throw Farel into a fountain, which may still be seen near the spot where he preached. But the reformer stood firm.
This first preaching was succeeded by others. To this Gospel missionary every place was a church; every stone, every bench, every platform was a pulpit. Already the cutting winds and the snows of December should have kept the Neuchatelans around their firesides; 'the canons made a vigorous defence;' and in every quarter 'the shorn crowns' were in agitation, supplicating, menacing, howling, and threatening,—but all was useless. No sooner did this man of small stature rise up in any place, with his pale yet sunburnt complexion, with red and unkempt beard, with sparkling eye and expressive mouth, than the monks' labour was lost: the people collected around, for it was the Word of God that fell from his lips. All eyes were fixed on him: with open mouth and attentive ears they hung upon his words. And scarcely does he begin to speak, when 'Oh! wonderful work of God!' he himself exclaims, 'this multitude believes as if it had but one soul.'
The Word of God carried the town, as it were, at the first assault; and throwing down the devices Rome had taken ages to compose, established itself in triumph on the ruins of human traditions. Farel saw in imagination Jesus Christ himself walking in spirit through the midst of this crowd, opening the eyes of the blind, softening the hard heart, and working miracles, so that scarcely had he returned to his humble residence before he wrote to his friends with a heart full of emotion: 'Render thanks with me to the Father of mercies, in that he has shown his favour to those bowed down by a weighty tyranny;' and falling on his knees, he worshipped God.”
Farel moved southward, bringing the Reformation to Lausanne, and at length appearing to lead the campaign for the Reform of Geneva, the most difficult and the greatest achievement of his illustrious career.
Part 2: The Genevan Campaign
The little city-state of Geneva, Switzerland was destined to become a fortress of the Reformation; but no one would have guessed it at the beginning of the sixteenth century. In fact, there is not a more striking example of God's special providence toward a people since perhaps the founding of the nation of Israel. The strategic importance of the little country of Switzerland for the Protestant Reformation lay chiefly in its location at the heart of continental Europe, nestled between France, Germany, Austria and Italy. Geneva lay at the southwest corner of Switzerland, at the southern tip of the Jura mountains, on the eastern border of France and the northern border of Savoy.
The Genevan republic had been battling to maintain its liberties against the combined powers of their powerful southern neighbors, the Duke of Savoy and the Pope (acting through the bishop of Geneva) for decades, when in 1532, William Farel appeared on the scene. Geneva's battle for independence was about to take a new turn. From being a merely political contest, it was to become a spiritual war. The Huguenots were for independence from Roman usurpations, and they were gradually coming to see that Rome was corrupt and evil; but they were far from understanding or appreciating the gospel and the positive side of the Reformation.
Farel was specially equipped by God for the work that lay before him. Here is a description by D'Aubigne:
“He was one of those whose simple, serious, earnest tones carry away the masses. His voice of thunder made his hearers tremble. The strength of his convictions created faith in their souls, the fervor of his prayers raised them to heaven. When they listened to him, 'they felt', as Calvin says, 'not merely a few light pricks and stings, but were wounded and pierced to the heart; and hypocrisy was dragged from those wonderful and more than tortuous hiding-places which lie deep in the heart of man.' He pulled down and built up with equal energy. Even his life – an apostleship full of self-sacrifice, danger and triumph – was as effectual as his sermons. He was not only a minister of the Word; he was a bishop also. He was able to discern the young men fitted to wield the weapons of the gospel, and to direct them in the great war of the age.
And here is another:
A catholic in his youth, fanatic in abstinence and maceration, Farel had embraced salvation through grace with all the living ardour of his soul, and from that hour everything appeared to him under a new face. His desire to enlighten his contemporaries was intense, his heart intrepid, his zeal indefatigable, and his ambition for God’s glory without bounds. A difficulty never stopped him; a reverse never discouraged him; a sacrifice, even were it that of his life, never alarmed him. He was not a great writer; in his works we meet occasionally with disorder and prolixity; but when he spoke he was almost without an equal. The energetic language which transported his hearers had been derived from the writings of the prophets and apostles; his doctrine was sound, his proofs strong, his expressions significative. Poets are made by nature, orators by art, but preachers by the grace of God; and Farel had the riches of nature, of art, and of grace. He never stopped to discuss idle or frivolous questions, but aimed straight at the conscience, and exhibited before those who listened to him the treasures of wisdom, salvation, and life that are found in the Redeemer. Full of love for truth and hatred for falsehood, he inveighed energetically against all human inventions.
In his eyes the traditions of popery were a gulf in which horrible darkness reigned, and hence he laboured to extricate souls from it and plant them in the soil of God’s Word. His manly eloquence, his lively apostrophes, his bold remonstrances, his noble images, his action frank, expressive, and sometimes threatening, his voice that was often like thunder (as Beza tells us), and his fervent prayers, carried away his hearers. His sermon was not a dissertation but an action, quite as much as a battle is. Every time he went into the pulpit, it was to do a work. Like a valiant soldier he was always in front of the column to begin the attack, and never refused battle. Sometimes the boldness of his speech carried by storm the fortress he attacked; sometimes he captivated souls by the divine grace he offered them. He preached in market-places and in churches, he announced Jesus Christ in the homes of the poor and in the councils of nations. His life was a series of battles and victories. Every time he went forth, it was conquering and to conquer.
We left Farel last time in Neuchatel, where his prodigious and indefatigable labors had led to the Reformation of the city. For some time after, he labored in other cities that lay between Neuchatel and Geneva; but Geneva was in his sights from at least 1521. D'aubigne observes:
A general who desires to capture an important city, first makes sure of his position and occupies the surrounding country: and so Farel, desirous of winning Geneva to the gospel, first set about enlightening the neighbouring people. His operations were not strategic certainly; he thought only of converting souls; and yet his labours in the Vaudois towns and villages admirably prepared the way for his successes among the huguenots [of Geneva]...
In October of 1532, Farel entered Geneva, bearing letters of authorization from mighty Berne to preach the gospel there. Geneva was allied to that powerful Protestant city, whose armies were feared throughout Europe, and also to Catholic Friburg. This alliance was essential to the Genevans, who were threatened by such adversaries as the Pope, the Emperor, and the Duke of Savoy – any one of which should have been able to crush Geneva with ease. Calvin's cousin, Robert Olivetan, was already there, quietly evangelizing while serving as a tutor to the children of one of the leading Huguenots. Farel, upon entering the city, immediately tried to persuade him to use his rare gifts and learning to translate the whole Bible from the Hebrew and Greek originals into French. Resistant at first, Olivetan finally relented. He completed the great work in 1535, shortly before his premature death, at the age of 32.
While the Genevans had ousted their wicked bishop-prince in 1527 (he fled the city in terror, after an outraged populace demanded and obtained the release of a young woman he had abducted for his pleasure) the city was still effectively governed by his agents in the Episcopal council, and the canons. The elected rulers (syndics and councilmen) were, most of them, still Catholics. Besides, they were in fear of riots by the people, stirred up by the priests and friars. They needed the alliance with Protestant Berne, but they dared not allow Farel to preach. So they sent him to the Episcopal palace to be examined by the Romanist authorities, with a promise of safe-conduct. These officers of Rome would not allow him to speak, but instead abused him with insults, spitting, and blows. Despite the presence of two councilmen, Farel was badly beaten up, and barely escaped with his life. Farel was blamed for the uproar, and banished from the city. So fearful were the Catholics of the gospel!
Farel retreated, but he was not so easily defeated. If he could not be there himself, he would send another to carry on the work. His young apprentice, Anthony Froment would go next into the battle, as a schoolmaster. Quietly, peacefully, he made inroads and gained a following among the people, including some of note, whose conversions sent shock waves through Catholic Geneva. The Protestants of Geneva had by this time gained a decree of the council that required the word of God to be preached in every parish (this was a concession to Berne); but it was not being enforced. On New Year's Day, 1533, Froment, with a large crowd of Protestants and sympathizers preached to a large crowd at a great square called the Molard. His text was Matthew 7:15, 'Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits.' The Romanists, being described in vivid detail, resorting to the only argument they had, drew their swords. A bloody riot was averted only by the arrival of the secular authorities, the abrupt ending of the sermon, and the flight of Froment. Sheltered for a time within the city, his opportunity for usefulness was at an end. It was his turn to leave the city, having fulfilled his part well.
Soon after, the Evangelicals celebrated the first communion service in Geneva. It was a small, private affair; but when word of it leaked out, it caused a great uproar. The minister who had presided, a man named Guerin, was exiled from the city. Many of the Catholics were itching to shed Protestant blood. The days ahead were filled with murders, attempted murders, and riots, in which the Protestants were sometimes left no choice but to defend themselves. The next Evangelical banished was Calvin's cousin, Olivetan, who was at that time translating the Scriptures into French, with whom we have already met. D'aubigne writes:
“Evangelical zeal was the occasion of the persecution. Its enemies were angered; they could not understand the inappreciable life then fermenting among their people. If a meeting was suppressed in one house, it was held in another. ‘They could not find any remedy against this.’
One, however, offered itself. A Dominican monk, an Inquisitor of the Faith, had just arrived in Geneva. ‘He is a great orator,’ was the report in the city, ‘a fervent catholic... He had come to preach the Lent sermons... ‘Deliver us from this heresy,’ said the heads of the Dominicans to him. The monk, flattered by this confidence and proud of his mission, prepared a fine discourse, and the next day or the next but one after Guerin’s departure he went into the pulpit. St Dominic’s church was crowded, and a good many evangelicals, including Olivetan, were present.
After a short introduction the monk began with loud voice and ardent zeal to decry the Bible, to abuse the heretics, and to exalt the pope. ‘He uttered without restraint all that came into his head.’ ‘I will blacken them so,’ he had said, ‘that they shall never be washed clean.’ Great was the excitement among the huguenots. ‘ If any one of us is so bold, as to move his lips,’ they said, ‘such a little liberty makes our masters bawl out like madmen; but they are allowed to pour out their poison and infect the world with it.’
Olivetan, who was present during the sermon, could hardly contain himself, but as soon as it was ended, he got upon a bench, thinking it would be wrong of him not to make the truth known. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I desire to show you honestly from Scripture where you have erred in your discourse.’ These words created great astonishment. What! a layman presume to teach the Church … The priests and some of their creatures surrounded Olivetan, abused him, pushed him off the bench, and would have beaten him. ‘Whereupon up came Claude Bernard, Jean Chautemps, and others, who took their friend away from the monks and people who desired to kill him.’… But he did not escape so easily: the council sentenced him to banishment, without hearing or appeal. Everyone regretted him: ‘He was a man,’ they said, ‘of such learning, godly life and conversation!’ Olivetan was forced to leave. Geneva, suffering under a violent commotion, cast off the evangelists one after another, as the sea casts up the fragments of a wreck.”
William Blackburn relates what happened next:
“All seemed lost in the storm that swept through Geneva in the year 1533. We can glance at only a few other of the sad effects. There was talk that these banishments were not enough. Farel had been driven away, but after him rose up Froment. He had been expelled, but Guerin appeared in his stead. He had been cast out, but then came Olivetan. This fourth leader had been banished, and now somebody else would suddenly take his place. The whole band must be expelled or treated with worse cruelties. There were secret plots formed in the house of the grand-vicar—an armed attack, a fight on the Molard, a plan to burn out the Huguenots, and a reign of terror.
There was the restoration of the bishop-prince, Peter la Baume, who, six years before, had carried off a young girl to his castle, and raised a tempest that bore him away into banishment. There were all his revenges upon the innocent, some of them being thrust into prison, and some put to flight. Chautemps escaped; but his wife, the delicate, accomplished, devoted and heroic Jaquema, must pay for it by suffering rough treatment in a narrow cell. Claudine Levet saw her house again despoiled, and her husband fleeing for the mountains; and if he had not been overtaken, seized, and cast into a deep dungeon, she would have suffered in his stead. These are mere specimens of the persecution. There was almost everything to please the sister Jeanne de Jussie in making up her journal, and telling how the women met to 'make war and kill the heretic wives, in order that the breed might be extirpated,' and how, with their little hatchets and swords and caps full of stones, 'there were full seven hundred children, from twelve to fifteen years old, firmly resolved to do good service along with their mothers.”
Yet, amid all this storm and uproar, there was a voice from My Lords of Berne. Messengers went and told them all about this madness for popery and this violence against their ministers. They were aroused, like a 'bear robbed of her young.' Papal Friburg should not drive out of the re-allied city the men whom Protestant Berne sent there to preach the gospel. They 'did not mince matters.' They gave the Genevan council something to think about, and to put its members in a fearful dilemma. The council was called; there was something new; the looks of all were anxious; the premier, with an air of consternation, offered a letter from the Bernese senators: 'We are surprised that in your city the faith in Jesus Christ, and those who seek it, are so greatly molested. … You will not suffer the word of God to be freely proclaimed, and you banish those who preach it.”
The Council deliberated:
“What should be done? 'If we yield to what Berne demands, the priests will get up fresh disturbances.' It will not do to put down the priests, for Friburg insisted on their presence and power. This course, then, seemed full of danger. But was the other any safer? 'If we refuse,' said they, very solemnly, 'Berne will break off the alliance, and the reformed will revolt.' This course was dangerous. And they knew not what to do...”
The priest party sent for a doctor of the Sorbonne to preach the Christmas sermons. This was Guy Furbity, a man of great pomp and little discretion. He, being a Dominican, was expected to preach in the convent de Rive; but, in order to make the victory the more effective, he was led by an armed escort to the cathedral of St. Peter, some time before the Christmas week. There he declaimed about the soldiers dividing our Lord’s garments, and the heretics dividing the church, calling the latter by all the worst of names.
Just before Christmas a deputation came from Berne, bringing Farel, Viret, and Froment, and insisting that they should be heard, and that the friar Furbity should be arrested for abusing their honors, their ministers, and good Christians generally. The friar went so far that the senate of Geneva put him under close guard. The grand-vicar ordered French Bibles to be destroyed, and forbade anyone to preach without his license. But the preachers taught in private houses and waited for Berne to open the public doors.
'You must arrest Furbity and bring him to trial for insulting us,' said the Bernese, 'and he must prove from Scripture what he has declared, or recant.' The Genevese hesitated. It would offend Friburg. 'If you prefer Friburg to us,' replied Berne, 'then choose her. But what about those large sums of money which you owe us for defending your city? What about the articles of alliance? Refuse our request, and we must have a settlement. We will remove the seal from the articles, and you will look no more to us for help.' The senate of Geneva could afford to give up the alliance with papal Friburg, rather than that with Protestant Berne. They therefore let the Bernese summon Furbity to a discussion with Farel.
It was, no doubt, one of the gladdest days of Farel’s life, when he met this friar in an open debate. It was a delight not often afforded to the reformers. Furbity agreed to prove his points by Scripture. Many subjects were discussed through several days. The friar broke down in his undertaking, especially on the eating of no meat in Lent. 'I cannot prove it from Scripture,' said he, with fading pomp.
'This is keeping your promise admirably,' said Farel, 'that you would maintain from Scripture, before all the world, and to your latest breath, what you have been preaching.”
The friar found himself mastered. He apologized to the Bernese commissioners, and hoped for the liberty of trying his eloquence in quarters where he might have less to do with the Bible. But Berne was in earnest... He must recant, and that in the cathedral. Then he might leave the city. Pale and trembling he went into the pulpit, and instead of recanting his errors before the people, who were already convinced of them, he began to complain of injustice and persecution! The Bernese insisted on his recantation. He refused and thus was false to his own promises. The people became indignant. They wrongly set upon him and almost killed him. The Bernese interfered, and put him into prison. There he was visited by Farel, Viret, and Caroli. On seeing this last one, he almost fainted away, for Caroli had been his divinity tutor, and had left the Romish faith. For two hours they labored with him, but he persisted in his errors. He was kept for two years in prison, and finally released at the intercession of Francis I... By Farel’s triumph over him in the debates, a strong turn was given to the Reformation.
During the next Lent a milder monk was preaching in one of the churches. He was enjoined by the senate to publish the pure gospel, and not allude to the adoration of the Virgin Mary, prayers to the saints, purgatory, and such like subjects. He promised to obey but did not keep his word. The Bernese deputies heard his sermons, and then asked that one of their ministers might preach, promising that he should not attack the mass, nor image worship, nor any peculiar tenet of popery. They said it was reported that their preachers kept in dark corners, met at an inn for worship, and dared not appear in the churches. But the Genevese senate feared to offend Friburg and the bishop, and the request was not granted. The people tried another plan that very day.
In a few hours the bell of the Franciscan church was ringing, and the people flocking thither almost carrying Farel. They set him up in the pulpit, and he preached without interruption. It was the first Protestant sermon in a Genevan church. Everyone was astonished, and the grave question was, who of the citizens had rung the bell. 'It was not by our consent,' said the senate. 'We had no hand in it,' said the Bernese envoys, 'it looks like a wonderful providence.' The Friburgers declared that it must not be permitted again, or they would break off their alliance. The senators asked the Bernese to send away the preachers. 'Not at all,' said the Bernese, who begged Farel to bear in mind the critical state of the city, and be moderate in his attacks upon the errors of the priests. In April 1534, the Friburgers carried out their threat, tore the seal from their treaty, and left Geneva in the hands of Berne and the reformers.
It was a great victory for the Protestant cause, whose weapons were those of peace and good will to men. At Whitsuntide Farel administered the Lord’s supper to a large number of communicants. For a moment there was fear of a disturbance, for a priest entered the church in full dress, as if he intended to break up the services. All were breathless. He walked up to the table, threw off his robes, declared that he thus renounced popery, and wished to be received into the little band of disciples, and sat down with the communicants. The exiles began to return, and the prisoners to see hope of release. By degrees one church after another was opened to the preachers.
The Romanists began to make a new use of their old weapons. The bishop and the canons approved of a plan to surprise the city by night, expel the civil rulers, take the government in their own hands, and sweep out the new doctrines and the new church. The plot came to light, and the bishop came to grief. The pope next tried the 'thunders of the Vatican,' and Geneva, with her allies, was excommunicated from the church of Rome. This act raised up Huguenots in the streets and in the senate, and finally Geneva broke with the bishop-prince and with the pope.
Smaller plots were laid. A servant girl was engaged by certain priests to take off the ministers by mixing poison with their food. It happened that Farel ate nothing that day, Froment dined elsewhere, and only Viret partook of the poisoned dish. He felt the effects of it immediately, and, although his life was saved, his health never recovered entirely from the shock. Not long after a still more atrocious attempt was made to poison the bread and wine at the Lord’s supper. These plots excited a sympathy for the reformed and a general hatred against the priests and their party.
The preachers now resided with the Franciscans and gained many of these monks over to the reformed faith. One of these was James Bernard, the brother of Farel’s host. They often talked of the Scriptures together, and the Franciscan agreed to defend the new doctrines before an assembly of his own brethren and those of St. Bernard. Thus, to Farel’s delight, a disputation was held for nearly four weeks, when all the main points between Romanists and Protestants were discussed... The result was most happy. Many of the priests became obedient unto the faith, and the people were strengthened. Claudius Bernard, Farel’s host, demanded that the senate make a public acknowledgement of the Reformation, and declare that popery was no longer the religion of Geneva. But the senators hesitated, lest there should be a renewal of disturbances.
One day Farel was invited to preach in the Magdalen church. He went, and, as he entered, the priest left the mass and hastily retired, leaving Farel the pulpit and the audience. The vicar complained. The senate ordered Farel to confine himself to the two churches already open to him and his brethren. A few days afterward Farel appeared in another church, and for this was brought before the senate. He listened respectfully to their rebukes, and then begged to be heard. He urged 'that the Reformation was the work of Divine Providence, and to delay its progress was to oppose God’s will; besides, almost the whole city had declared in its favor. Issue right commands if you wish the servants of God to render you willing obedience. Give God the glory, and aid the victory of truth over error, especially when you behold some of the most zealous defenders of popery converted to the true religion.' The senate did not withdraw their prohibition, and were reminded that 'we must obey God rather than men.' There were some Gamaliels in that senate who would not allow any forcible measures.
Another day, August 8, 1535, the bell of the Franciscan church was ringing, and Farel was on the way thither, when he was met by a strong body of men. They obliged him to go to the cathedral, the very throne of Romanism in the city, on whose pillar had once been nailed the 'great pardon.' There, in the pulpit of St. Peter’s, he declared what had not rung to its roof for centuries. He was himself again, with his loud voice and his torrent of eloquence. He could not endure the images and relics that were thickly seen in all corners. No doubt he said many severe things, which excited the people against these idolatries, and when they came again in the evening in great numbers, the work of image-breaking commenced in downright earnest. Vandel, Baudichon, and others led the way, and they left mourning enough for the monks. The next day they visited other churches and made rough havoc of the images.
The senate, not knowing whereunto this would grow, joined with the council of Two Hundred, and they summoned Farel to appear before them. He went with several other ministers, Franciscans, and citizens. He addressed them with firmness and moderation at first, and then warming with Scripture and the greatness of his cause, he employed all his bold and masterly eloquence in defense of the faith. 'We do not wish those priests, who cannot receive our doctrines, to be punished,' said he, 'but we pray for their conversion. We are here to preach, not to persecute. We are ready to seal the truth with our blood.' He then prayed most fervently that God would give light to the members of the council, so that they might act wisely in behalf of the people who needed salvation. All was respectful, earnest, powerful, and convincing.
The councilors were touched, moved, and decided. They asked the Romish clergy to come forward and state their arguments. The monks confessed their ignorance, and those higher in rank simply hurled back their contempt for Farel and their defiance of the council. It was firmly resolved to abolish popery, and to establish Protestantism. In the evening of the same day, August 10, the vicar was informed of the proceedings, and that his services were no longer desired. The mass was forbidden, even in private houses. The Bible was to have its place and its power. The bishop-prince removed to the little town of Gex, and the see was declared vacant. The monasteries were suppressed, and an opportunity was given for Sister Jeanne to hear that fearful preacher, William Farel, on whom she had expended so much of her wit and her wailing.
Whether Sister Jeanne heard Farel or not, we cannot tell, but he preached to the nuns of St. Claire, and showed that Mary and Elizabeth were not shut up in convents, but were excellent mothers at their homes. They had been thrown into horrors long before by certain women who told them, 'If the heretics win the day they will certainly make you all marry, young and old, all to your perdition.' So they chose to leave Geneva, rather then live among the heretics.
The citizens met on the twenty-first of May, 1535, and took an oath to support the Reformation. Geneva was rising into a Protestant state, quite theocratic in its government and powerful in its influence upon the world. Michelet, who is a moderate Roman Catholic, declares, 'Europe was saved by Geneva.' And who saved Geneva? So far as mere men are concerned, due credit must be given to William Farel.”
Perhaps the most important single act of Farel was his enlisting of John Calvin to aid in the reformation of Geneva. Farel was always looking for recruits, and was always short of good men. Calvin, a fellow Frenchman, he knew by reputation, chiefly from his famous Institutes of the Christian Religion, just recently published. Here is Wylie's account:
“One day, towards the end of August, 1536, a stranger, of slender figure and pale face, presented himself at the gates of Geneva. There was nothing to distinguish him from the crowds of exiles who were then arriving almost daily at the same gates, except it might be the greater brightness that burned in his eye. He had come to rest only for a night, and depart on the morrow. But as he traversed the streets on his way to his hotel, a former acquaintance – Du Tillet, say some; Caroli, say others – recognised him, and instantly hurried off to tell Farel that Calvin was in Geneva.
When, nearly a year ago, we parted with Calvin, he was on his way across the Alps to visit Renee, the daughter of Louis XII. of France, and wife of Hercules d'Este, Duke of Ferrara. 'He entered Italy,' as he himself said, 'only to leave it,' though not till he had confirmed the illustrious princess, at whose court he sojourned, in her attachment to the Protestant faith, in which, despite the many and peculiar trials to which her constancy exposed her, she steadfastly continued to her life's end.
His eldest brother dying, Calvin recrossed the mountains, on a hasty journey to his birth place, most probably to arrange the family affairs, and leave Noyon for ever. Where shall he next go? The remembrance of the studious days he had passed at Basle returned to him with irresistibly attractive force, and now, accompanied by his brother Antoine, and his sister Maria, he was on his way to his former retreat; but the direct road through Lorraine was blocked up by the armies of Charles V, and this compelled him to make a detour by Switzerland, which brought him to the gates of Geneva.
With startled but thankful surprise Farel received the news that the author of the Christian Institutes was in the city. God, he thought, had sent, at a critical moment, the man of all others whom he most wished to associate with himself in the work of reforming Geneva. Farel had begun to feel the difficulty of the task he had in hand. To break this people from their habits of lawless indulgence, nurtured by the contests in which they had won their liberty, would indeed be no easy matter. They would spurn all attempts to coerce them, and yield only to the force of a stronger will, and the sway of a loftier genius. Besides, the highest organising skill was demanded in the man who should set up a moral tribunal in the midst of this licentious city, and found on this unpromising spot an empire which should pervade with its regenerating spirit nations afar off, and generations yet unborn. Believing that he had found in Calvin one who possessed all these great qualities, Farel was already on his way to visit him.
Farel now stands before the author of the Institutes. He beholds a man of small stature and sickly mien. Were these the shoulders on which he should lay a burden which would have tasked the strength of Atlas himself? We can well believe that Farel experienced some moments of painful misgivings. To re-assure himself he had to recall to mind, doubtless, the profound wisdom, the calm strength, and the sublimity of principle displayed on every page of the Institutes. That was the real Calvin.
Now Farel began to press his suit. He was here combating alone. He had to do daily battle against an atrocious tyranny outside the city, and against a licentious Libertinism within it. 'Come,' he said to the young Reformer, 'and be my comrade in the campaign.' Calvin's reply was a refusal. His constructive and practical genius was then unknown even to himself. His sphere, he believed, was his library; his proper instrument of work, his pen; and to cast himself into a scene like that before him was, he believed, to extinguish himself. Panting to be at Basle or at Strasburg, where speaking from the sanctuary of a studious and laborious privacy, he could edify all the Churches, he earnestly besought Farel to stand aside and let him go on his way.
But Farel would not stand aside. Putting on something of the authority of an ancient prophet, he commanded the young traveler to remain and labour in Geneva, and he imprecated upon his studies the curse of God, should he make them the pretext for declining the call now addressed to him. It was the voice not of Farel, but of God, that now spoke to Calvin; so he felt; and instantly he obeyed. He loved, in after-life, to recall that ' fearful adjuration,' which was, he would say, 'as if God from on high had stretched out his hand to stop me.'
Calvin's journey was now at an end. He had reached the spot where his life's work was to be done. Here, in this grey city, clinging to its narrow rocky site, the calm lake at its feet, and the glories of the distant mountains in its sky, was he for twenty-eight years to toil and wage battle, and endure defeat, but to keep marching on through toil and defeat, to more glorious victory in the end than warrior ever won with his sword, and then he would fall on sleep, and rest by the banks of that river whose narrow stream he had crossed but a few minutes before. He gave his hand to Farel, and in doing so he gave himself to Geneva.”
Farel and Calvin labored together in Geneva until they were both expelled in 1538 by a hostile city council. The city was plunged into chaos, and suffered serious losses and disasters through the misrule of these ungodly senators and syndics, until a series of remarkable providences discredited them and restored the people to their right minds. Realizing at last the value of the two ministers they had driven away, they begged Calvin to return and to teach them the good and right way. Calvin was loth to return to a place that had so severely abused him. His friend and mentor, Martin Bucer, tried to retain him at Strasbourg, where he was pastoring a church of French refugees. He had rather do anything than go back to Geneva; but, chiefly because of Farel's persuasive counsel, he determined to once more sacrifice himself for the cause of God. Through his exile, he had gained a wider ministry, participating in some of the major Protestant councils; and moreover had been recognized as one of the leaders of the Reformation throughout Europe. Accordingly, when at length he arrived in Geneva, he had grown greatly in the esteem of that people; and was much more effective in the days ahead as a result.
Farel having been settled elsewhere in Switzerland, Calvin returned in 1541 without him, but they remained close friends until Calvin's death in 1564. Surprisingly, Farel married late in life, and lived to the ripe old age of 76, serving God to the end of his days.
Howard Douglas King
Revised November 10, 2014