Final Labors and Death
This section comprises chapters 19 through 22. They are listed below. To go directly to any particular chapter click on the link to that chapter. Otherwise you can scroll down as you read chapter by chapter.
- Chapter 19 – Peace to the Storms
- Chapter 20 – Farel’s Neighborly Visits
- Chapter 21 – Old Life with New Love
- Chapter 22 – The Call to Glory
Peace to the Storms 1538-1549
Here lived in Basle one of the best of men, named Symon Grynæus, a school-fellow of Melancthon, who said that he had “a mildness of temper that was never put out, and an almost excessive bashfulness.” Beza compared him “to the splendor of the sun, that overpowers the light of the stars.” The papists of Spires knew his worth, for they thought it policy to attack him with such violence in 1529 that he barely escaped. He was invited to Basle to take the place of Erasmus as a professor. When Calvin was there in 1534 he met this good man and was captivated by his gentleness. They became most affectionate friends, and often shut themselves up in their room for study. To his house Calvin went as a very damp and chilly exile from Geneva, and there he found a cheerful fire, a sympathetic heart, and a home where he remained for many months.
In the house of Oporinus, the printer, Farel was lodged, waiting for Providence to open some new door to him. Toussaint wished him and Calvin to return to Lausanne, and there labor. But in a few weeks there came a very unexpected call. Two councilors and two ministers of Neufchatel came to see him. They said their people had heard of Farel’s sufferings, and their old attachment to him had revived in such strength that they must have him among them. They could not forget how he had preached on the stone in Serrière, in their streets, and in the cathedral on the hill. They had first heard from his lips the word of God, and, his weighty voice seemed yet ringing in their ears. They had prayed fervently for God to send them a chief minister, and all wanted Farel. Besides, Viret and Fabri were urgent in pressing the call upon him, and so, too, were the neighboring churches.
At first he hesitated, for the desire to be with Calvin and to engage in study was strong. Then the church at Neufchatel was sadly in want of discipline. He might have the late experience at Geneva all over again, and be exiled in less than a year. But duty began to impress his mind; conscience lifted her voice; his soul caught the old fire, and he was himself again, bold, fearless, ready to sacrifice himself, intensely anxious to preach, and possessing an “ambition for God’s glory without bounds.” His mind was made up, and at once he set out for his parish.
Soon after his arrival mournful tidings followed him. His sister had followed him to Basle, and there she saw her son die of the plague. Calvin wrote thus, in a letter to “Farel, the faithful preacher at Neufchatel, my beloved brother. Your nephew, last Sabbath-day, fell sick here of the plague. His companion and the goldsmith, who bore witness to the gospel at Lyons, immediately sent to me. As I had taken something to cure my headache I could not visit him myself. … Grynæus visited him frequently. I did so as soon as my health allowed it. When our T. (Du Tailly) saw that I did not fear the danger he insisted on sharing it with me. We spent a long time with him yesterday. When the signs of approaching death were evident, I imparted spiritual rather than bodily comfort. His mind seemed to wander, but he still had sufficient consciousness to call me back to his chamber, and to entreat me earnestly to pray for him. He had heard me speak much of the usefulness of prayer. Early this morning, about four o’clock, he departed to the Lord.”
There were many difficulties at Neufchatel. The ablest ministers had been sent by the Bernese lords into other cantons, and some of the old priests were in the churches, consuming the revenues and corrupting the people by their bad example. The reigning prince also had laid his hand upon the revenues of most of the churches, and it was a serious question how to support pastors in the different parishes. The neglect of pastoral attentions to the sick, the poor, the ignorant, and the young was disheartening. The governor had lately adopted the reform, but he still disliked Farel. This was probably George de Rive, whom we well remember.
There was also much to cheer his heart when he recalled the day that he first crossed the lake in his little boat. Fabri had gone into the parish of Boudry and given the papists a chance to repeat their tricks of ringing bells and shouting to drown his voice while preaching, and then fall upon and nearly kill him after the sermon was ended. But the parish finally had decided for the reformation. The young minister proved that he not only admired Farel, but took him for his model.
The shepherds and hunters of Locle often came to a little oratory, about which there was a legend which was truer, in their view, than the gospel. St. Hubert was once riding through these mountains on a hunt, when a bear met him and killed his horse. But, nothing daunted, he mounted the bear and rode safely home, to the amazement of everybody. Hubert was the hunter’s patron saint, and a celebrated lover of the chase had built this oratory. The prayers offered there were probably few, and certainly very superstitious. A greater hunter was coming to Locle. John de Bely was on the way at the time of a fair, when Madame Williamette of Valangin had him seized and brought into the castle. She forced him to debate for two hours with her priest. “Put him in prison,” she exclaimed, but the good-natured priest interceded and he was released. Bely found a friend in this worthy vicar, who took him by the arm, led him to the parsonage, refreshed him with bread and wine, and sent him on rejoicing. The people said that “the mountain bears were beginning to be tamed.”
One day the people of Brenets, far up in the Jura mountains, resolved to take the images out of their church, so that they might worship God in spirit and in truth. They removed them and prepared to break them in pieces and throw them into the river as had been done at Neufchatel. They looked up and saw two fine oxen coming, driven by some villagers from a little town in France, just over the border.
“We offer you these oxen,” said the villagers, “in exchange for your pictures and images.”
“Pray take them,” said the people of Brenets. The idols were gathered up by one party, and the oxen driven away by the other, and an old chronicler says that “each thought they had made a fine exchange.” In such ways the gospel was working in the canton of Neufchatel. “With the exception of one village, the evangelical faith was established throughout the whole principality, without the aid of the prince and the lords, and indeed in spite of them. A hand mightier than theirs was breaking the bonds, removing the obstacles, and emancipating souls. The Reformation triumphed, and after God, it was Farel’s work.” He had sown bountifully a few years before, and now he has returned to reap in the same fields. History dwells less upon the peaceful progress of his work than upon the disturbances raised by the foes of the truth.
There was one man who made himself such a thorn in the sides of Farel and his co-laborers that, on their account, he should be mentioned. This was Peter Caroli, whom Farel had known in Paris as a dissolute doctor of the Sorbonne. A few of the adjectives applied to him by historians, are these: vain, fickle, frivolous, insinuating, servile, quarrelsome, hypocritical, ambitious, dangerous, insufferable, seeking to push himself forward, and unworthy of notice had he not had the honor to excite trouble among the reformers.
In this shrewd and crafty man Beda had found his match after he assailed the priests. Had he been a thorough reformer he might have been burned, but he was too trifling a character to be worthy of death. It was said that two such men as Caroli would have wearied out the activity of Beda himself, but he was not content with provoking the Romanists. He left Paris in fear, and, for safety, took refuge with those who favored the gospel.
For a while he was with Lefèvre and Roussel; and Margaret, who gave him the parish of Alençon, could make nothing of him, for there he persecuted the Protestants. Changing again, be put on the face of a mild reformer, and was driven out of France. He wandered about for a time, and at length appeared in Geneva.
There he fawned on Farel and Viret, but would not subscribe to their confession of faith, lest he should not seem to be above these brethren. He sought to be the chief director in the protestant council, and gave all the annoyance possible when Anthony Saunier was chosen. At one time Farel detected him in pocketing a collection for the poor. There were rumors that he still led a very disorderly life. He professed to be very penitent and to reform. In 1536 he went to Neufchatel, preached there, and married into a respectable family. By dint of entreaty he got the Bernese to appoint him chief minister at Lausanne, where his age and doctor’s degree gave him the precedence over the tried and meritorious Viret. His ambition rose, and he soon went to Berne, asking to be appointed the overseer of the whole clergy of the district. The Bernese saw his pride, sharply rebuked him, and ordered him to pay deference to Viret. This mortified him exceedingly, and he began to meditate schemes of revenge against Viret and Farel.
After long endurance of his insults, slanders, and half-popish sermons, Viret brought him before the lords of Berne at Lausanne. Farel had shown the utmost solicitude for his welfare and hoped yet to see him a truly converted man, all to no purpose. Viret also had dealt gently with him although he suspected him of bad conduct.
He was found guilty by the council, and required to make a confession to those whom he had injured. But to avoid this he left the country in great haste and secrecy. He stopped at a little town on his way and there wrote an abusive letter against the ministers who had shown all the gentleness that they could. He wandered about, found Calvin at Strasburg, and reconciled himself to the evangelical party, and just when they hoped he might become a firm and consistent protestant, he went to a cardinal Tournon in France, forsook the reformation, embraced popery again, was recommended to the pope, and boasted that he had won a victory over the gospel preachers. The pope restored him to the Romish church, released him from his wife (whom he did not call by so tender and sacred a name), and Caroli became again a priest. He honored Farel by calling him the chief of all heretics.
To the great surprise of Farel it was reported that Caroli had appeared at Neufchatel. He had not found that a second return to his “mother church” had secured him the preferment which he wished. He desired to return to the church which he had so vilified at Rome, and was even willing that “the chief of all heretics” should receive him. Farel passed over all the slanders and abuse that had been flung at him, and believing that the power of God could yet convert even a Caroli, hastened to visit him. The great waverer showed some signs of repentance when Farel, Viret, and their friends met him. They plainly brought to his remembrance all the evil that he had done, and he begged their forgiveness, hoping that his past errors might be forever buried. They gave him the right hand of fellowship and promised to do what they could in his behalf. They were not agreed as to his restoration to the church and the university. Some thought that he was a worthless individual on whom all forbearance and kindness would be lost. Farel, who had most reason to be severe with him, was most anxious to see this wandering sheep brought back into the fold.
The senate of Berne had a matter to settle with him, for he had left the country despising their orders and slandering their honors to the pope. They cared nothing for the pope, but they had a high self-respect. They had him arrested and tried. Again Farel interposed as a peace-maker, but the senate condemned him and let him off with a fine and a lecture. There was a general distrust of him among the reformed churches, and he was advised by Farel to go to Basle and there remain until he could gain the esteem and confidence of those whom he had offended. Those who charge the Genevan reformers with severity amounting to persecution may well study this case and learn how much they are mistaken.
Peter Toussaint was preaching at Montbeliard, the first parish in which Farel had labored. To his surprise, Caroli came there to get an appointment from the Duke of Wurtemberg. Toussaint found that he was the same man that he had long been and dismissed him. At Valangin he went next, and the wonder is that he did not enter the service of Madame Williamette. Farel still aided him, insisting upon his thorough repentance. Then he went to Strasburg to see what he could do with Calvin, who asked advice of Farel, and was answered that Caroli should be helped in making a living, but not placed over a church until he gave evidence of his conversion. Thence he went to Metz where he wrote a “vaporing letter” to Calvin, asking for a parish. The reply was that neither he nor Farel had any churches at their command, and even if they had, he could not have it until he should prove himself worthy of the trust. When we meet him again he will have made another shift for bread, reputation, and power.
It is not strange that Farel was sick after these contacts with this ambitious waverer, but we should barely notice his illness did it not bring to light the esteem and friendship of Calvin, who felt that his life was almost bound up with that of his friend. After his recovery Calvin wrote to him, “While I reflect how much of the greatest importance may depend on the little man, it is not possible for me not to be, in a more than ordinary degree, anxious about your life. Wherefore from the time that the report of your illness was brought hither [Strasburg), I have not enjoyed one pleasant moment until I heard you had recovered. On that account, I experienced the like joy from hearing, by the messenger, good news of your health, as he enjoys who is delivered from a long continued sickness.”
The life of Farel may appear much tamer while he passes several years as a minister in one place, than while he was imperiling his life by his journeys and his contests as a missionary. But it may have been equally useful. By his correspondence he still held a great influence over the whole region where his voice had been heard. In his charge he was greatly annoyed by the opposition to his discipline. It grieved him to give the bread, at a communion, to those who showed no evidence of conversion, and who thought that their high rank entitled them to share in all the privileges of the church and yet neglect the practice of their duties. He had put down the useless holidays, and to a good degree had broken up the dances and the idleness and the drunkenness of the people, but those who wished such pleasures and sins were restless and quite ready for a riot. They wanted Farel to leave them, and sought for some occasion to exhibit their feelings and their strength.
There was a lady of high rank in the town who had for several years lived on bad terms with her husband, a man of integrity, separated from him, set a bad example to her children, brought suspicion upon her own character, and given very general offense. Yet she claimed her place at the sacramental table. Farel tried to bring her back to her duty, by serious but gentle remonstrances. After several such attempts, with no success, he gave his opinion of such conduct publicly, but mentioned no names. At this she ceased to go to church. The congregation and senate would do nothing, and he at length declared that the authorities were shamefully negligent, and that such a pest ought not to be endured in the church as a member of it. The sermon was not politic; it arrayed against him all the young and old who had before felt stung by his rebukes. No efforts were spared to raise a general commotion. The whole town was divided in two parties, the one intent upon retaining their pastor, and the other upon dismissing him. His opponents at last gained a majority for his leaving within two months. The greater part of the senate and the better class of the people were on his side, but the governor and some others of rank so excited the common people that the vote against him was obtained.
It was a day of trouble to the minister. The first friend who came to console him was John Calvin, who was on the way to Geneva, and who turned aside to use his good offices for his brother. He pleaded with the people and thence went to Berne to engage their help in behalf of the preacher and the endangered church. All efforts seemed in vain until a mysterious Providence secured a reconciliation of the parties. The plague began to rage in the town. The courage of Farel rose with the dangers of his situation. He acted the part of a pastor who had never been disowned by any of the people. He visited the sick every day, relieved the poor, and sought to win his enemies by kindness. They could not but respect him for all this, and the bitterest opposers began to be the warmest friends. A day of humiliation and prayer was appointed. Everyone partook of the sacrament. The preachers warned the people and urged them to unity and peace. The example of their devoted but injured pastor softened their hearts, and they wished to retain him among them. Some weeks after this he was re-elected for life, and by degrees every trace of the disturbance was gone, and complete harmony was established.
Calvin spent some time with his friends, and we must now see how this exile came to be on the way to Geneva.
The faction which had expelled him and Farel enjoyed their triumph by trying to undo almost all that had been gained. The old manners were restored and carried to such an extreme as to create disgust. From liberty the people passed to licentiousness. Every social tie was broken; order gave way to discord, tumult, and deeds of violence. The reading of the Bible was totally forbidden to the women, and very much restricted among all others. The teachers were removed from the schools that Farel had established; the preachers were set aside for mere hirelings, and the fanatics seemed to rule the day. But a reaction followed. The people saw that masquerades, balls, blasphemies, and indecencies must be checked. They began to wish for the return of the banished ministers. Many prayed for it. The subject of calling back Calvin was openly discussed; the senate held meetings; and, at last, on the first of May, 1541, the act of banishment was revoked. To show their sincerity, the people intimated that the amusements and dissipations, which the reformers had once tried to put down, should be abated.
But it was not so easy to persuade those whom they had expelled to return to Geneva. Farel was now settled, and Neufchatel refused to give him up. Calvin did not wish to go unless his vigorous friend could join him in the difficult work, and, besides, Strasburg was not willing to part with him, for he was now a pastor in that city. From all sides went letters urging Calvin to accept the call, but Farel and Viret had the chief influence in securing the end. With great reluctance he went. The troubles at Neufchatel detained him, as we have seen, on the way, and prevented Farel from attending him.
There was reason for Calvin to expect a hearty reception. James Bernard had written and told him how the weeping people had prayed, and how, the next day, the great council met and said with one voice, “Calvin, that righteous and learned man, it is he whom we would have as the minister of the Lord,” and with much warmth Bernard continued, “Come, therefore, thou worthy father in Christ; thou art ours; God has given thee to us; all sigh for thee; thou wilt see how pleasant thine arrival will be to all.” On the thirteenth of September, 1541, this promise was fulfilled. A herald met him; the gates were crowded, the city full of joy, and the senate soon entreated him never to leave Geneva.
We left the Chevalier Esch at Metz, and we cannot learn what became of him, except that persecution drove him to Strasburg. The agents of Beda had waged a merciless war upon the believers in that free and imperial city, but they had not entirely suppressed the desire which many of the people felt for the gospel. At length the times seemed to favor new efforts. Some of the Dominicans began to preach sounder doctrines and a purer life. In 1542 Casper de Huy was elected to fill the highest office of the city, that of sheriff (echevin), or mayor. He and his brother permitted the Protestants to meet in their private houses for worship, and also on their estates, where multitudes assembled to hear it. Nothing seemed wanting to the organization of a regular church but an efficient minister. One had been invited, but he lacked the courage to brave all the dangers of the post and even death itself. Proposals were made to Farel, who saw that quiet and prosperity were restored at Neufchatel, and he might leave it for a time. The new field had charms for one so bold and zealous, whose element was to reform, to hazard everything for the gospel, and to do the work of a pioneer. Several of his friends disapproved of the step, but he was urged to go by Calvin, who thought no one so well qualified as this experienced and dauntless missionary.
Early in December 1542, Farel went to Metz, and he was urged to preach on the next Sabbath. In the church-yard of the Dominicans a pulpit had been raised, and he mounted it to preach his first sermon in that city. The number of hearers was very great. During his sermon two of the monks came and ordered him to be silent. He gave no heed to their command. They called their friends and began to ring all the bells, but his voice of thunder rose above all the din. The next day more than three thousand persons came to hear him. That he should preach and baptize without any Romish ceremonies excited great attention among the people and high wrath among the friars. The pulpit was ordered to be pulled down, and various threats were made. The sheriff, de Huy, and his friends saw that in so large an assembly a little flame might become a vast fire, and they persuaded Farel to postpone his preaching until there was more assurance of the public safety.
The news of his arrival had reached the ears of the council, and Farel was summoned before that body.
“By whose orders are you here?” they asked.
“By the order of Jesus Christ, and at the request of some of his members.”
“Name those who invited you,” said they, glancing at one another, as if certain of them were held under suspicion. He refused to give any names. He then addressed them and withdrew, leaving them to consider what they should do with him. Soon after a man of his size and appearance was seen riding out of the gates. It was reported that Farel had been sent away by his friends, who were alarmed for his safety. He was, however, concealed among the Protestants.
The fearful plague fell upon the city. Many who felt that they must be abandoned by men and die in loneliness, without pastor or priest, found a plain, bold man urging his way to their couches. There he told them of Christ’s death, free pardon, and holy heaven; there he carried such consolation for the dying as they never had heard before, and even into houses that would otherwise have been shut against him, he found a welcome. Full scope was thus given to his fearless activity, and many recognized Farel, the preacher who had declared the good tidings in the church-yard. In the meantime he sent word to the neighboring cantons, which had united in the Protestant league of Smalcalde, to send deputies to Metz, and receive into their union the Protestants of that city. The senators would not allow the deputies to enter the gates, and they imposed a fine upon anyone who should visit Farel. They secured a mandate from the emperor forbidding him to preach, and declaring that all the citizens should remain Roman Catholics until the next general council. The emperor’s mandate was posted up in the streets and pulled down by the children.
In this state of affairs Farel retired to the neighboring town of Gorze, under the protection of Count William, of Furstenberg. At his court Walter Farel was engaged in an honorable service. Another brother, Claudius, came from Strasburg to visit the preacher. At Gorze he preached in the parish church and in the abbey chapel. A monk was one day descanting on the glories of Mary, when Farel called his statements in question. The women in the audience attacked him, and handled him so roughly that he came near losing his life. He was obliged to keep his room for several days, but, with this exception, he preached with growing success. At Easter many came from Metz to hear him and to celebrate the Lord’s supper.
This enraged the Romanists in Metz, and they formed a conspiracy against Farel and his hearers. The renegade Caroli seems to have been at the head of the plot. He persuaded the duke of Guise to send a body of soldiers to Gorze, and there fall upon the congregation. About three hundred persons had just celebrated the Lord’s supper on one Sabbath, when suddenly a trumpet was heard, and a troop of armed men fell upon this helpless and unsuspecting company. A son of the duke led the band, and it is said that Francis I sanctioned the plot. Some were slaughtered and others drowned; Farel was wounded, and with great difficulty he and Count William escaped into the castle. It was some time before the friends of the preacher knew what had become of him. The count had him and many other wounded sent on litters to Strasburg.
Caroli was now preparing for the great master stroke which, as he hoped, would bring him honor and office. Having failed to murder Farel, he attempted to crush him. The clergy and council of Metz so favored him that he had the insolence to send Farel a pompous and noisy challenge to a dispute. And, to gain the more glory, the dispute should not be held in Metz, but before the pope or the council of Trent, or in some of the great universities. It was to be held at the risk of each life—the one who should be defeated was to be put to death. In order to effect this, Caroli would become a prisoner at Metz, and Farel might place himself in the hands of the French king. Caroli sent this absurd challenge to the great powers in the Romish church, so that they might know what a champion was about to appear.
Farel replied, asking him who had commissioned him to hold such a debate, and suggesting that it would not be so expensive to have it in Metz as in some distant city. “If you have not sufficient influence to have a debate appointed in your own city, how can you secure one in a place where you are unknown?” The ridiculous proposal was thoroughly exposed. Farel employed his pen in replying to various slanders set on foot by Caroli. In one letter to him he says, “If I am rightly informed, you have publicly declared that I am the greatest heretic that the world has ever seen. Might it please the Lord that I could in truth say, you are the most faithful and pious servant of God that ever appeared! … I beseech you to retrace your steps, and to employ the good gifts which God has bestowed upon you for his glory. I am ready to hold a friendly conference with you at Metz, and endeavor to restore harmony among the people.”
This man had circulated such reports about the Genevan ministers that they thought it wisest to have a public disputation with him, and thus assert, defend, and prove their doctrines. It might open the eyes of the people of Metz, and put the reformation there on a good footing. They cared very little for the aspersions of Caroli, and had no fears for their own personal characters, but they wished to see the truth established among its enemies. The Genevese sent Calvin to Strasburg for the purpose of securing the debate. He and Farel begged the senate to give them a safe-guard to Metz and a request to the senate there to grant them an audience. But it was all fruitless. Caroli was the last man who wished to meet them in a discussion. His pretensions brought him a fall; his haughty spirit was a token of his utter ruin. The papists must have laughed at his absurd challenge. He never came again in contact with the admirable men whom he had abused. He surrendered himself to his weaknesses, or rather his strong vices, and, at last, one might have seen, in a hospital at Rome, a poor, disappointed, wretched, and forsaken victim of excess, dying in disgrace. It was the last of Peter Caroli, who is a first-class specimen of several men with whom the reformers had to contend. He could never justly complain that Farel and his brethren had treated him with severity.
Farel had been absent from his parish about a year, when he returned to Neufchatel. His recent sufferings in the Lord’s service brought him new esteem from all who were able to appreciate his merits. But there were also fresh troubles. His colleague, Chaponneau, seemed disposed to act over again the part of Caroli. By degrees Farel won him to the right path. The church became more settled under a better organization. Elders and deacons were appointed, and there was a firm but kindly discipline. The children were carefully taught the Bible and the catechism, and the plan of a Sabbath school appears to have existed. The form of church government was Presbyterian, and its principles were derived, not from the Waldenses, but from the apostles.
FAREL’S NEIGHBORLY VISITS 1549–1558
Not long after Farel’s return from Metz, he paid a visit to Geneva. His garments were a proof of the persecutions he had endured, as well as of his poverty, or his disregard of dress. The senate had given Calvin a new suit when he returned to the city, and now a similar one was voted to Farel. He seemed to suspect that it was meant to buy him off from speaking his mind, or he felt that he did not deserve it; and when he appeared before that dignified body he admonished them to lead good lives, maintain justice, and revere the word of God. He respectfully declined the present. He also refused to accept their invitation to reside in Geneva. The suit was put in Calvin’s keeping. Some time after, Calvin wrote to Farel, “The suit is at my house, until someone be found to take it. Your refusing it was all very well, but you may now very properly accept of it.” It seems that he laid aside his scruples, accepted the present, and allowed his personal appearance to be improved by dressing in the style of Geneva.
It was still a favorite plan of Calvin to have Farel in Geneva as a co-laborer, feeling that he would be most useful in that city which owed so much to his missionary efforts. In 1545, this proposal was again laid before him. Berne was willing, but he would not consent to go unless a minister could be found to take his place at Neufchatel. Toussaint was invited, but refused to leave Montbeliard. After the death of Chaponneau, who on his deathbed and in tears ordered all his writings against Calvin to be burned and bequeathed him a copy of Augustine’s works, there was some difficulty in choosing a colleague for Farel. Some wished Anthony Marcourt, but Christopher Fabri was chosen, and Farel was delighted to have this devoted and zealous young friend to take from his weary shoulders many of the heavy burdens.
In a few months Calvin and Viret made another effort to draw Farel into their nearer fellowship. A new professor of divinity was to be appointed at Lausanne, to share the labors with Viret. No one appeared more suitable. He was congenial with Viret; he was no mean scholar in the Bible languages; he was a good expositor of the Scriptures, and the system which he had introduced at Geneva was proof that he was an excellent theologian. Calvin noticed that as his years increased he became more gentle and cultivated in his manners. If anyone could fire the students with a love for preaching and for missionary toils, Farel was the man.
But the chief opponent to this arrangement was the senate of Berne. The senators admitted the very arduous and eminent labors of their great missionary, and rendered thanks to him for establishing the gospel in their districts and cantons; but they were not willing to have so bold and uncompromising a man in the seminary at Lausanne. They, too, were offended because Farel had not formed the church at Geneva on the model of that at Berne. Very likely, also, they were afraid that Calvin, Farel, and Viret would form a triumvirate of which they might be jealous, and Geneva might rise far superior to Berne as a powerful republic. Thus the new chair of theology was not filled by Farel. It was occupied a few years afterwards by Beza.
The old tutor of Calvin, Mathurin Cordier, was now headmaster of the school at Neufchatel. He was taken from that place to teach at Lausanne. The Bernese senate advised the senate of Neufchatel to pay attention to their schools, as a wise means “for promoting the glory of God, and instructing the young in the Divine word and in propriety of conduct. Certain tyrants, who undertake to suppress and extirpate the gospel, know of no better way than the abolition of the Latin schools.”
Most heartily did Farel enter into these views. He saw that darkness would again overspread the church unless the young men were carefully educated in science and the Holy Scriptures. He sought out young men who might be qualified for the ministry, and urged the senate to educate them, if need be, at the public expense.
The persecutions in France put the lives of two of his brothers in danger—Walter and Daniel. They were already in prison. In company with Viret he went to Berne and Basle to gain their release. They were at length set at liberty. The next year these ministers made another visit in behalf of the Waldenses, many of whom were fleeing to Geneva and other Swiss cities for refuge from relentless persecutions.
Men were constantly coming into Farel’s parish who proved to be disturbers of the peace. This caused him great trouble and sorrow. His friends advised him to be patient in his spirit and moderate in his censures. One day he exclaimed, “I am already advanced in years, and have not vigor enough to urge those under my care who need a continual spur. In the church courts I am a novice, and stand alone. I am honored with the title of father, it is true; but my sons have little respect for my authority.” In writing to a neighboring minister, he said, “I conjure you to admonish me faithfully of what you see amiss, and remember me in your prayers. Thus you will profit me and the church, also, far more than by your commentaries, which proceed from an excessive attachment.” Those who caused most trouble were the sect called “Libertines,” who were free-thinkers, free-lovers, free-livers and mischief-makers in every possible way. They gave still greater trouble at Geneva, where some of the patriots were led into their absurdities.
Calvin was greatly annoyed by this sect, and his life was not free from danger. It was reported afar off quite frequently that he had been killed. The great council did not support him. In a letter to Viret he wrote, “wickedness hath now reached such a pitch here that I hardly hope the church can be upheld much longer, at least by my ministry.” And, again, “If I ever needed your assistance, it is now more than ever necessary.” To Farel he wrote, “I wish you could cheer me again by coming hither.” These friends came, and saw Calvin arraigned by his enemies before the senate of the republic. He was charged with having shown too little respect for the magistrates of the city in not letting them rule over the church. The worst sentence they could find in his letters was, “Our people, under pretence of Christ, want to rule without him.” They thought this was a deadly arrow shot at them. Farel pleaded for his friend, with all his warmth and powerful eloquence, on two or three occasions. He said that the senate had not enough respect for the character and merits of Calvin, who had no equal in learning; that they should not be so nice about what he had said of them, as he freely reproved even the greatest men, such as Luther and Melancthon; and that they should not credit what a pack of useless men, who were the pillars at taverns, whispered about the man that was saving Geneva from Anti-Christ. The senators took the reproof most kindly and ceased to be reprovers. They thanked Farel by a vote for what he had said, and there the affair rested for a time.
So interwoven is the life of Farel with that of his more distinguished friend, that we are tempted to enlarge upon the biography of Calvin. In their letters, their visits, their requests for each other’s advice, and their books, there are proofs of their warmest and most firm friendship. Calvin submitted many of his manuscripts to Farel and Viret, and dedicated some of his volumes to them, that the world might know how sacred were the bands that bound them together and how harmonious they were in all their labors. On one occasion Farel was so cast down by the troubles of his friend that he could find no rest. He took up Calvin’s new work on the Council of Trent and was so cheered that he spent the whole night in reading it.
In 1553 Calvin made a visit to Neufchatel, for his friend Farel seemed to be lying at the point of death. The physician had said that there was little hope of his recovery. A celebrated French jurist, Charles Du Moulin, had just come, anxious for a personal acquaintance with so distinguished a champion of the reformation. It was an honor paid to him just when all human honors were fading to nothing. Farel made his will. It was mainly a setting forth of his gratitude to God, his faith, his doctrines, his confession, and his hope that his last words might confirm those who had received the truth from his lips. He bequeathed his little property to his brothers Walter and Claudius (to whom he had left his paternal inheritance when he left Dauphiny), and exhorted them to remain steadfast in the faith which they had before accepted through his agency. A fourth part of his books he left for the ministers in his district, and the rest to his brother Walter and to his nephew, Caspar Carmel, the minister who afterwards preached on the estates of a brother of the Admiral Coligny, and became pastor of the reformed church in Paris. A third part of what was left of money and furniture was to be given to the poor, thus retaining sufficient to pay all his debts. Calvin wrote his name as the first witness. Gladly would Farel have departed to his Lord, but the Master had another design. Calvin prayed for his sick brother, and the Lord restored him to health.
The world will be old before a certain class of men will cease to charge John Calvin with the burning of Servetus. The truth about this painful case will, probably, not be fully examined until the millennium; the misrepresentations have already had a long day and a wide circulation. We cannot fully enter into the subject in these pages. If Calvin has been blamed, Farel has been reproached for cherishing a more bitter spirit toward Servetus.
After a long course of heresies, blasphemies, and profanations; after years of disturbance which he caused among the churches, and after various attempts to correct his errors and reform the man, this Spaniard, Servetus, was arraigned before the council of Geneva. Calvin was not the instigator, nor the plaintiff, nor the judge. Servetus was not condemned for heresy, nor for his falsehoods, nor for his opposition to the Genevese ministers. It was for blasphemy, a crime punished by death under the law of Moses, and regarded as worthy of such rigor by almost all men in his own times. For many years after him the blasphemer was put to death. The blasphemies of Servetus are too awful to be written.
The Libertines and all the enemies of the truth and of the church took the part of Servetus, and this put Calvin in such a position that he seemed to be severe against him, when his motive was to defend the gospel, the church, and the honor of Jehovah. The accused was not at all in Calvin’s hands. This great reformer had never such absolute power in Geneva as his enemies represent, and he had almost the least power when Servetus was on trial. His influence just before this, was at so low an ebb that he was tempted to leave the city. The senate was against him; the ruling party was composed of his enemies, and among them were the Libertines, who rejoiced at the prospect of being able soon to overthrow him. They deprived the clergy of all share in the management of the state.
It is true that Calvin laid his complaints against Servetus before the senate, and, although its members were mostly utterly opposed to Calvin, they took up the charges and brought the man to trial. Dr. Henry, who has most thoroughly sifted the case, says, “Calvin had no intention to expose Servetus to capital punishment. He only wished to render him harmless, to make him recant his blasphemy, and so preserve Christianity from injury.” And, further, “We find that it was his blasphemy, his rash jesting with holy things, the insult with which he had treated the majesty of God, that weighed heaviest upon (against) him. The judges passed over everything else.” The law of that day punished blasphemy with the sword. The majority of the judges decided that Servetus should die by fire. So little had Calvin to do in this matter that he wrote, “What will become of the man I know not; as far as I can understand sentence will be pronounced tomorrow and executed the day after.” He again wrote to Farel, “I think he will be condemned to die, but I wish that what is horrible in the punishment may be spared him.” And, again, after the sentence had been fixed, he wrote, urging Farel to come to Geneva, and saying, “We have endeavored to change the mode of execution, but without avail.” Farel was soon in the city, to learn what we have not space here to write. It was Calvin’s wish that this excellent man should attend the condemned to the place of execution, so that in his last hours he might have the ministries of truth and kindness from one whom he had not reviled.
Early on the morning of October 27, 1553, Farel went to the prison. He inspired confidence in Servetus, who could not have desired a better companion on the terrible journey to the Champel, where he must die. Farel was intent upon leading his soul to the true faith, and he began to remind him of his errors, and their only remedy in the love of God. He urged him to acknowledge Christ as the Eternal Son of God, a fact that Servetus had strongly and blasphemously denied. After this attempt was proved to be in vain, he told him that if he would die as a Christian he should forgive all men, and be reconciled to Calvin, whom he had grossly abused. Servetus consented. Calvin was sent for, and he came. One of the council asked Servetus why he wished Calvin to come. He replied, “To ask his forgiveness.”
“I readily answered,” wrote Calvin, “and it was strictly the truth that I had never sought to resent any personal affront received from him. I also tenderly reminded him that, sixteen years before, I had diligently sought, at the hourly peril of my life, to win him to the Lord; that it was not my fault that all pious people had not extended to him the hand of friendship, and that this would have been the case had he but shown some degree of judgment; that, although he had taken to flight, I had still continued to correspond peaceably with him; that, in a word, no duty of kindness had been neglected on my part, till, embittered by my free and candid warnings, he had resigned himself not merely to a feeling of anger, but to absolute wrath against me. Turning, however, from that which concerned myself, I prayed him to implore the forgiveness of God, whom he had so awfully blasphemed. …” But Servetus answered nothing, and Calvin left him.
The council assembled and waited for the unhappy man to retract, but he renewed his assertions of innocence. Farel had a tender heart toward him, and implored the council to soften the punishment, but the members were so horrified at the wickedness of Servetus that they would not change the sentence.
A hill outside the city still bears the name of Champel, and thither Servetus was led, preceded by a throng of people. He saw the stake prepared for him, and he threw himself upon the earth, where he seemed to be praying in silence. Farel turned to the multitude, and, believing that Satan had such blasphemers in his power, he said, “You see what power Satan has when he once gets possession of us! This man is learned above most others, and, perhaps, believed that he was acting right, but now the devil hath him. Beware, lest this same thing happen to yourselves.”
Farel still urged him to acknowledge his errors, to speak to the people and publicly retract his blasphemies; to pray to Jesus, not only as the Son of the Eternal God, but as the Eternal Son of God, and thus he might still touch the hearts of the council, and be spared the worst horrors which he dreaded. But it was all in vain. At Farel’s request he did at last ask the people to pray for him. When Farel told him that if he had a wife or child, and desired to make his will, there was a notary present, he made no answer. During the terrible scene that followed he cried continually to God for mercy, but he would not address Christ as the Eternal Son of God. Among his last words were these, in which he still persevered in one of his doctrines, “Jesus, thou Son of the Eternal God, have mercy upon me.” He would not say, “Thou Eternal Son of God.”
We are very far from justifying these proceedings. But let it be remembered that in his day the Romanists were burning men for what they called heresy; that the law, public opinion, the Bernese senate, and most of the reformers of the Rhine countries were against Servetus because of his blasphemies; and that after a fair trial, he was sentenced, chiefly by the enemies of Calvin, to a far worse death than the Genevan ministers had expected. Farel returned home soon after the execution.
The enmity of the rising party in Geneva increased against Calvin. The council wished to compel him to administer the Sacrament to Berthelier, one of the senators who had been excommunicated. He would not yield. This was but a test in regard to many other matters between the state and the church. The design was to get some hold upon him and drive him from the city. Plots were laid against him during the trial of Servetus, whose punishment would have been the same had Calvin been expelled. He had made up his mind to leave the city unless some sudden change appeared in his favor.
Farel heard of this resolution and hastened to Geneva, in order to lift his powerful voice again in support of his friend. He did not think what a storm he was about to bring down upon his own head, or if he did, he was willing to sacrifice himself for the sake of Calvin and the church. He entered the pulpit and preached a powerful sermon to a multitude that had rushed to hear him. He was carried away by the spirit of his own mighty eloquence, and was too unsparing of his rebukes upon the Libertine faction. He probably held up their leader, Perrin, in the light of truth rather than of tenderness and made severe reflections upon the senate for opposing the church. He closed his sermon, entered the streets, and went home as abruptly as he had come.
The noise of the sermon rose loudly through the city. The opposers of the church declared that it was an insult to the state. They constrained the senate to give them a letter to the senate of Neufchatel, demanding that Farel should be sent back to be tried for an offense which they regarded as no less than capital. Calvin thought that Farel could defend himself, and advised him to come to Geneva, rather than wait for the senate of Neufchatel to take up the charge.
The old man, therefore, set out on foot, in the roughest of weather, and found Geneva in a great excitement over him. He had seen it so before, and was fearless. The senate sent word to Calvin that he should not allow Farel to preach, for they knew his ruling passion and his power. He was in great peril. Berthelier tried to form the workmen in the mint into a gang that should go to the senate hall and raise a disturbance. Some think that from them arose the cry to fling the staunch old preacher into the Rhone, a cry that was not new to the ear of Farel. Others gave another version of the matter, and both may be true. The senators were making out the charge against him, when the hostile party in the hall cried out, “Throw him into the Rhone.” But Farel had friends.
A young man boldly stepped forward and warned Perrin, the would-be Caesar of Geneva, to take care that the, “Father of the city” suffered no harm. Other young men came forward to the defense of their former teacher and spiritual father. Perhaps they had been eager lads in Froment’s school at the sign of the golden cross. They formed a guard about the fearless old man. Friends came in still greater numbers and among them Calvin, Viret, and other ministers, who felt that justice demanded a loud protest in behalf of the accused. The citizens left their homes and shops to defend their ministers, and the factious party began to understand that all the strength of the city was not on their side.
The Genevese preachers made their voices heard in the senate hall. They set forth the evil designs and plots against Farel. The accusers became alarmed and dared not proceed to violent measures. Farel was permitted to speak. He contended, in a long and animated speech, that his adversaries could not have heard his sermon, for they had altogether mistaken his meaning, and that nothing was farther from his thoughts than to insult a city toward which, as all men knew, he cherished the kindest feelings. They began to perceive that they had acted hastily, on mere rumors, and in a bad temper. The fiery eye, the loud voice, the persuasive address and the earnest self-defense of the old man, had a powerful effect upon the senators and the crowd which had pushed into the hall. Many who had been most active against him were moved and melted. The majority now declared that he had only acted as a faithful preacher in his reproofs and admonitions, and that he was a true servant of the gospel and their spiritual father. Upon this the senate ordered that everyone should give him his hand, and that a feast should be held in token of the general reconciliation. That Farel should be honored with a feast in Geneva must have even exceeded his surprise, and the warm grasp of his hand must have put the most unmusical heartstrings in good tune for harmony at the banquet. Perrin, the leading senator, was obliged to declare, with trembling, that Farel’s sermon was quite right, and that everyone must live by the word of God. The Libertines, who had raised all this tumult, plainly discovered that the mass of the people overpowered them, and Perrin humbled himself before Farel, declaring that he was under obligations to him as his former friend, and should ever regard him as his father and pastor. How sincere all these demonstrations were, and how the feast passed off, we are not able to state, but Farel was at last dismissed with a request that he would retain the Genevese in his affectionate remembrance and prayers. He returned home, cheered by the friendly termination of this noisy affair.
This, however, was not quite the last of it. An unworthy pastor, Peter of Cressier, took advantage of these events to abuse Farel as “a savage man, a perverter of the truth, and possessed of two devils.” He had, we believe, never before been charged with having more than one. The slanders caused no slight trouble in Neufchatel. Farel brought the accuser to public trial, when he was convicted of slander, and ordered to beg pardon of the injured old pastor, the governor, and the citizens. Not often did Farel thus pursue false reports. He was inured to personal insults, and wisely left calumnies to refute themselves, or perish on their wearisome rounds.
Thousands of exiles were taking refuge in the countries whose streams fed the Rhine and the Rhone. The young king of England, Edward VI, died, and the “bloody Mary” reigned in his stead. Great numbers of them left the shores of England, among whom were John Fox, the author of the “Book of Martyrs,” several bishops of renown, and John Knox, for whom Scotland was waiting, that his mighty voice might shake her castles and her mountains. From France and Piedmont also the persecuted were coming—poor, weary, shelterless, and cast upon the mercy of God and of the Protestants, who had mercy upon them. It is hard to resist the temptation of describing the welcome which they received in the villages and cities where Farel was spoken of as the father of the feeble churches that had been gathered through his missionary labors. He ever took the most tender interest in these exiles.
After taking up a collection in Neufchatel for the exiles of Locarne, he wrote to them, “O ye happy ones! to whom it is given to prefer the gospel to every temporal blessing. It is delightful to the friends of Christ to hear how fathers are willing to forsake their sons on account of the word of God; how sons love Christ more than parents, brothers, or tenderly beloved sisters, and young women cannot be restrained from choosing the gospel. What heart is so hard as not to be softened at the holy sight! It would be almost incredible if the stony and cruel-hearted persecutors, who thirst after such sacred blood, should not at last be brought to change their hatred into love and their violence into tenderness.”
In Geneva the enemies of the truth were bold in their threats and their violence against Calvin. The senate opposed him, and the Libertines sought his life. For a time he could not walk the streets without being insulted. Once, on his return from the church, he was attacked on the bridge of the Rhone. He told them that the bridge was wide enough for them all, and when his coolness abashed the ruffians they turned upon a French exile, chased him into a shop and wounded him, crying out, “Death to the foreigners.” By day and by night such assaults were occurring. But at length Calvin gained his point, not by arbitrary power, but by his preaching, his persuasions, his calmness and his trust in God. He declared to the senate, “I would rather die a hundred times than claim for myself an authority which belongs to the whole church—that is the right to establish rules of discipline.” And yet this is the man whom his opposers to this day hold up as “the pope of Geneva.”
The spirit of Calvin prevailed at last, and the church of Geneva was permitted to guide her own affairs. And when the system of church government, introduced there by Farel and perfected by Calvin, was put into fair operation, its excellency was proved beyond any doubt. John Knox was so charmed with it that he wrote to his friend, John Locke, “I always wished in my heart, nor could I ever cease to wish that it might please God to bring me to this place, where I can say, without fear or shame, the best Christian school exists since the time of the apostles. I allow that Christ is truly preached in other places also; but in no other have I seen the reformation so well wrought out, both morally and religiously, as in Geneva.” Let Farel, “to whom our people owe everything,” as Calvin declared, have the honor due to him, while unto God be all the glory.
Most heartily did Farel render thanks to the Lord for the flourishing state of the church at Geneva, after passing through so many relapses and perils. In a letter he wrote, “I was lately in Geneva, and such was the pleasure I felt that I could scarcely tear myself away. Not that I wished to be the teacher of a church so large and so eager for the word, but only to hear and learn as the meanest of the people. Very different is my feeling from that of the man who said that he would rather be first in the mountains than second at Rome. I would rather be the last in Geneva than the first anywhere else. If the Lord and the love to the flock entrusted to my care did not forbid, nothing should keep me from ending my days with that people, to whom I have always been united in spirit.” Nor were the Genevese forgetful of his labors, sufferings, and love for them. When, as an aged father, he visited them, they strove together for the favor of showing him hospitality, and the senate proposed that a special sum be given him in order to detain him in their city, so that it might never be said that Geneva had treated him with ingratitude. But he was not willing to retire upon such honors and such generosity.
Amid these stirring events Farel had an unexpected call from that very France out of which he had been barred in his younger days. Even Paris was now open to him. A reformed church had grown up in that city where the voices of Lefèvre and Farel had once been heard and hushed. A child had something to do with its organization. When the disciples were few, they met in the house of the Seigneur de la Ferrière “to offer their prayers in common and read the Holy Scriptures.” This gentleman had a son that he wished to have baptized by a reformed minister. He made the proposal to the church in his house and begged them to choose a minister. They chose John de Launay, who organized the church in Paris, destined to be renowned for the number of its devoted pastors and its triumphant martyrs.
In 1557 this church asked for a new minister. Farel must have felt it hard to deny the call. The perils of the capital were inviting him. But Switzerland could not spare him. Nor could Fabri leave Neufchatel. Caspar Carmel obtained the dangerous honor, and he went to the city where his uncle (by marriage) had first found that light which had been borne by him into Switzerland, and was now to be carried back by his relative, whom he regarded as his own son in the faith. Thus Farel was at last represented in the heart of France, an instance of the power of a delayed but yet widely extended personal influence. The great stream had run eastward and flooded the Swiss valleys with truth, but the clouds rising from those valleys were carried back westward to drop refreshing rain upon the spiritual desert that Farel had once been obliged to leave.
The church and the school of theology at Lausanne preferred the doctrines and government of Geneva to all those of Berne. This greatly offended the Bernese senate. The strife waged warm until finally Viret and the professors left the city; more than a thousand people went with them to Geneva, where they were most kindly received. Viret became one of the pastors there for two years, when he was called into France. Beza became the colleague of Calvin, and the rector of the new academy. Thus the losses of Lausanne were the gain of Geneva. The noble Bonivard, some years after his release from the Chillon prison, gave his whole fortune to aid the schools of Geneva.
Old Life with New Love 1558-1564
The Waldenses in “the holy valley,” where Farel had once been so happily entertained, were threatened with utter extermination. They sought aid from their true and tried friends in Geneva and Neufchatel. Farel and Beza set out upon a visit in their behalf. The journey would give them an opportunity to plead the cause of the churches in which the French language was used, for they were not yet fully recognized by the German churches. They afterwards were called by the term, the Reformed Church. John Budœus, son of the William Budœus whom we saw at Paris, reviving the ancient learning, also traveled on this latter mission at a later day.
The assistance rendered to the Waldenses by the churches from Berne to Basle was greater than Farel expected. The cantons united in sending an embassy to the court of France, in order to stay the persecution. The king, Henry II, at least made some fair promises, leaving his officers to break them as they chose. Farel paid a visit to Montbeliard, and he was pained to find that his friend Toussaint had lost much of his brotherly love. Certain men, who had favored Servetus, had gained an influence over this excellent pastor, and his heart had grown cold toward the Swiss ministers. Farel clung with a father’s heart to the first-fruits of his pastoral toils in that city, and he could not do less than persuade Toussaint to renounce the views which had poisoned his heart. He had counted on him once as a colleague, and still, probably, as a successor.
War brought Toussaint and his church into peril. He was obliged to escape to Switzerland where the Count of Montbeliard was also a refugee. Some years after he was restored to his parish, where he probably ended his labors with his life.
A new field soon was opened to Farel where his zeal might meet with some of the old romance of missionary labor. When Philip, the Roman bishop of Basle died, an appeal came to the Swiss ministers for someone to carry the gospel into that diocese. There were signs that it would meet with a favorable reception. But no one had the courage or the liberty to go. Farel had now the time and the spirit to undertake the work. He went to St. Leonard, collected the people, preached, and was gladly heard. He remained but a short time, and on his departure many hundreds gathered about him to bid him farewell.
Then taking with him Emer Beynon, who had helped him on the stone to preach his first sermon in the canton of Neufchatel, he went to Pruntrut, where all kindness was shown to the bearers of the good tidings. The mayor and town clerk supped with them at the inn. The next day they appeared before the council. The deep interest shown to Farel’s address made him as eloquent as in his best days. The councilors were pleased with the offer to have the gospel preached there, but preferred to wait a little for a more convenient season. Meanwhile the new bishop had a word to say, and sent for certain of the council. He inquired and learned the object of this visit, and summoned Farel and Beynon before him. The bishop set forth a councilor named Wandelin to express his sentiments.
“Farel, you came here formerly to sow your tares,” said the bishop’s mouthpiece, “and, having been sent away by the late bishop, have refrained hitherto from repeating the attempt. We may reasonably be astonished at your daring to appear here again, but you are now advised, in a friendly way, to retire before any mischief befall you.”
“I am here, by the authority of my Lord, to preach Christ, and him crucified,” Farel replied, “and to call this sowing tares is a grievous sin against the Savior, and contrary to the Holy Scriptures. Besides, I have preached freely at places in this diocese, without ever being sent away, and I have taught doctrines which are the surest means of uniting people and princes, flocks and pastors, namely, obedience to Christ and to his word. If my doctrines can be proved to be false, I am ready to submit to any punishment.”
“I approve of your principles,” said Wandelin, perhaps speaking for himself rather than the bishop, “but I must be excused from putting them in practice. Wherever you have preached you have abolished the mass, and Berne has not allowed it to be restored. It will be so here if you gain a foothold, which we will do our best to prevent.”
Farel bade the council a respectful farewell, and, entering the streets, he saw multitudes, whom the news of his arrival had brought from all quarters to hear him. But he had now the moderation of old age, and he took a friendly leave of them, planning some other mode of taking the town.
The report of Farel’s visit reached the ears of the archbishop of Besançon, who forthwith sent a grand-vicar and a monk to Pruntrut, and they set themselves to work to counteract any impression that the preachers had made simply by their presence in the town. What impression, then, would their preaching make! Of course the grand-vicar was ready to dispute with the ministers against their “false, impious, and scandalous doctrines,” and he ordered a courier to be sent to him, if the heretics should dare to come again. He then took his way whence he came, no doubt thinking that he had inspired sufficient terror to make all things safe for a season.
The people of Neufchatel heard of this movement, and sent Soral, the pastor at Boudry, with letters to the council of Pruntrut. He reached there on St. George’s day, when the mayor and his deputy were absent. Some of the citizens were lounging about their doors, and courteously invited him to be their guest. He had not been long in the place when the parish priest came to him, and, with more rage than religion, accused him of sowing tares, and called him a deceiver, a teacher of error, and uttered very brave threats. A nobleman also reviled him, beat him with a club, and almost killed him.
Farel now felt that he was really invited to make a second attempt. Taking with him Beynon and Soral, he set out to hold the disputation proposed by the grand-vicar. On the way they were roughly assailed by some priests, and it was in vain that they called for the man who boasted of his readiness to meet them in debate. He had the prudence not to appear. Again they returned to their homes. These attempts created a great sensation through all Burgundy. The archbishop was unusually gracious to the people of Pruntrut. He granted them indulgences and released them from fasting. One would suppose that fasting would have been enjoined on them as a preventive of heresy. Still the people showed a partiality for Farel and the reformed doctrines. During Lent a special effort was made to confirm the people in the Romish faith by sending a doctor of the Sorbonne to exhaust his eloquence in reviling Farel, Calvin, and Viret as the most awful heretics.
Farel tried to bring this monk and doctor to trial. He went to Berne on a busy holiday, and stood shivering and gazed at by the citizens for an hour at the door of a senator, and at last was coolly received. The senate took steps to have the monk arraigned for slandering the preachers, but nothing further was done. When Calvin was urged to push the matter, he replied to Farel, “It would be a strange thing were I to require justice against a monk at a distance, when I am daily reviled as a heretic before the gates of Geneva!”
“What a young man I still am,” said Calvin, at the age of forty-four. Farel must have felt quite as young even at the age of sixty-nine, for he then filled all the country with surprise at one of his so-called indiscretions. Faith and love are constantly renewing old age. He, who had so long remained in single life, at last gave way to a tender sentiment. He had advised the preachers to marry, lest they should be exposed to the common charges brought against the priests, but none supposed that he would illustrate his precept by his own example. He had knitted no such ties, lest they should be broken by his violent death. But the old man thought that he now needed a gentle comforter, and the right one was well known to him.
Madame Torel, a widow, had fled with her daughter, Mary, a few years before, from Rouen, in order to escape persecution. She kept house for Farel in Neufchatel, where the daughter had ceased to be regarded as very young. His choice fell upon the daughter, and, after his hand was pledged, he wrote to Calvin, as the latter had done to him when he was about to be married to the worthy Idelette de Bures. “I am dumb with astonishment,” wrote Calvin, and then proceeded to give him all needed advice. The affair became more public in the parish than Farel expected. It was very strange, the people thought, for they had looked forward to his funeral rather than to the festivities of a wedding. They had become so accustomed to look upon the venerable missionary, daring all the dangers of the field single-handed, that they quite forgot his bold, eccentric and romantic nature, nor did they fathom the depths of tenderness that lay in solemn silence within his heart. The banns were thrice published, and, committing his betrothed to the care of a French refugee, he set out upon a visit to the churches. His object was to bring the Lutherans in closer union with the reformed and to gain help for Pruntrut. He returned and was married the twentieth of December.
These solemn men had their wit as well as their wisdom; if not, we should fail to understand their lively and cheerful natures. Calvin wrote at once to the clergy and elders of Neufchatel, pleasantly asking them to pardon this little escapade in their aged pastor, on the score of thirty-six years of faithful service. A son was born to Farel, six years afterwards, but he did not long survive his father.
But these new ties could not keep Farel at home, and he left the fireside for the field. He was soon at Strasburg, engaging assistance for the Protestants of Metz, to whom he had given many anxious thoughts. His efforts promised to be successful in securing to them freedom of public worship. Then he was traveling again on behalf of the Waldenses. On his return he found letters from France, urging him to send back the exiled preachers to the hundreds of churches that had lately abolished the mass, and were longing for faithful pastors. The whole of France seemed on the point of becoming Protestant. As a specimen of these letters we quote from one written by Beaulieu, then (1561) at Geneva.
“I cannot tell you how much grace God is bestowing upon our church (in France). There are men here from various places, as from Lyons, Nismes, Gap, Orleans and Poitiers, anxious to obtain new laborers for these portions of the new harvest. From Tournon especially was the application made, and that in obedience to the urgent wish of the bishop. There are five hundred parishes in these parts which have discontinued the mass, but are still without ministers. The poor people are famishing, but there is no one to give them the bread of heaven. It is extraordinary how many hearers there are of Calvin’s lectures; I believe there are more than a thousand daily. Viret is laboring for Nismes. I have heard men say that if from four to six thousand preachers were sent forth places would be found for them.” The Admiral Coligny was appointed by Catharine of France to number these churches, and he reported two thousand one hundred and fifty. A glorious church was rising in France, to be almost drowned in the blood of the saints massacred on St. Bartholomew’s day.
A special invitation came to Farel from Gap, his native district. Fabri went to Vienne, and he set out with a brother preacher for Dauphiny. Often had he lamented that he must live an exile from his native land, and with what emotions did he now look onward to the home of his fathers, after an absence of forty years! His relatives were not the only attraction, although that had its power. His father was dead, and so also must have been his mother. His brothers had been won to the gospel—three of them were exiles for their religion; one other, John, was as bold an expounder of the truth as himself; and a nephew, Carmel, had been preaching in Paris, where a large reformed church was gathering. His brother-in-law, the noble Honorat Riquetti, has lately been found to be “one of the ancestors of Mirabeau,” the talented and terrible Mirabeau of the French revolution, whose family name was Riquetti. D’Aubigné says, “There are certainly few names we might be more surprised at seeing brought together than those of Farel and Mirabeau, and yet between these two Frenchmen there were at least two points of contact—the power of their eloquence and the boldness of their reforms.”
Farel arrived at Gap in November, and was received with joy and veneration, as the man whom God had honored in leading thousands from darkness to light. Multitudes thronged to hear his first sermon, so that the church could not hold them, and he was heard with profound and uninterrupted attention. The councilors had requested the bishop’s vicar to prevent any disturbance, and he kept his word. As Farel did not wish to be reproached for acting secretly, he went on the same Sunday to the vice-mayor, along with the king’s advocate and the chief senator. He was told that all such meetings were forbidden under pain of death, and was asked by whose authority he had come. He held up the commission of his Lord, and said that since that edict had been published, such meetings had been held at Lyons and other places, and that certain ministers had preached before the king. The vice-mayor requested him to refrain from preaching until the governor and the parliament of Grenoble had been duly informed of his intentions. Farel exhorted him to listen to the gospel, which must condemn those who opposed it, and would save all who embraced it. He was honorably conducted back to his inn, and on that evening baptized a child.
The next evening all public meetings and the use of the churches were forbidden to the reformed party. But one meeting was held on the following morning. As Farel was coming out of church, a servant of the vice-mayor handed him the order in trembling haste. In the afternoon the friends met for prayer, and resolved to continue steadfast in the faith for which so many had been martyrs. They demanded of the vice-mayor a written statement of his proceedings, in order to make an appeal to the king and his cabinet.
From a dusty corner someone has lately drawn an old copy of the “annals of the Capuchins” of Gap. These friars gave no little space to the visit of the aged reformer, and their story is tinged with the color of their strong prejudices. It runs, that Farel, already an old man, wishing to preach in his native province, before God summoned him from the world, went and took up his quarters in a corn-mill at the gates of his native town—they do not mean Fareau but Gap—and then he “dogmatized” the peasants from a French Bible which he explained “in his own fashion.” Ere long he began to preach in the very heart of the town in the chapel of St. Columba. The magistrate forbade his preaching, and the parliament of Grenoble wished “to have him burnt.” Farel refused to obey, and upon this the vice-mayor, a zealous catholic, along with several policemen, went to the chapel where Farel was preaching. The door was shut; they knocked but nobody answered; they broke in and found a considerable throng; no one turned his head; all were listening greedily to the preacher’s words. The officers went straight to the pulpit; Farel was seized, and with “the crime” (the Bible) in his hands, he was led through the crowd and shut up in prison. But the followers of the new doctrine were already to be found among every class of people—in the workman’s garret, in the tradesman’s shop, in the noble’s castle, and sometimes even in the bishop’s palace. During the night the reformers, either by force or by stratagem, took the brave old man out of the prison, carried him to the walls, and let him down, by a basket, into the fields. “Accomplices” were waiting for him, and he escaped with their help.
By another version, however, we are told that the old preacher felt his youth renewed, when he saw a harvest upon his native soil, all ripe for the reapers. He made no personal attack upon the priests, who were more anxious to get their tithes and tribute than to preach. He persuaded his hearers to give up festivals, holidays, masses, indulgences, and the like. It grieved him to leave a field where there were so many encouragements. He entreated Calvin to send a preacher to take charge of the growing congregation, until he could find a suitable minister or return himself; for he could not now remain, as duty called him to his own post. He met the friends of the good cause at Grenoble, where many still remembered Sebville, and he addressed them in the house of a merchant, leaving a deep impression. His companion, Pichou, remained behind to preach in that town.
Not long after his return home, Farel had cheering news from the much persecuted church at Gap, for the brethren kept their pledges of faithfulness. Fabri and Viret were laboring in that region with great success. The plague broke out fearfully at Lyons, and extended to other places, but they took advantage of it to let the gospel win its way by its consolations. They were allowed to visit the houses of Romanists and point the sick to the Savior. Fabri wrote, “Neither life, nor wife, nor children are so dear to me as my Lord Jesus and his church.”
While Farel was absent, Neufchatel was favored with a visit from the duchess of Longueville—whether the same Joanna who had so long been trifling at the court of Francis I, we cannot say, but it seems that she was the one, and that she was greatly changed. Her son was with her. The ministers counseled with her in settling several church questions. A synod was held, and the custom of letting the churches choose their pastors was confirmed. Much was done to promote better discipline and to found schools in destitute parishes. She corresponded with Calvin, and he praises her courage and steadfastness in the faith. In France her house had been a refuge for the persecuted.
She visited Landeron, a town in her canton. The papal party had only one vote in their majority over the reformed party. The duchess wished to have Protestant service performed the next morning after her arrival, by a preacher who attended her and the young duke. The people were assured that no allusion would be made to popery, nor anyone be compelled to attend, as the service was for her and her retinue. It was intimated that she, being the ruler of the land, had a right to the free exercise of her religion, especially as she gave her subjects the same liberty. But all this was in vain. The authorities were the first to take up arms, and, with covered heads, they rudely threatened to throw the preacher from the pulpit. She again urged that their sovereign should not be thus prevented from hearing the gospel, which they need not hear unless they chose, but her condescension availed nothing. The alarm bell was rung, the inhabitants armed themselves, surrounded the chapel, and compelled the duchess to put a stop to the preaching. Farel, on his return, was greatly annoyed by this outrage, but he thought the priests more to blame than the people.
The Call to Glory 1564-1565
John Calvin was dying near the age of fifty-five, and the dear old man of seventy-five was very anxious about him. Farel wrote thus to one of his friends, “I have not yet heard any certain report of the departure of our brother, Calvin, so dear and so necessary to us, but the current rumors and the state in which I left him afflict me greatly. Oh that I could be put in his place, and that he might be long spared to serve the churches of our Lord, who, blessed be his name, caused me to meet with him when I little expected it, and retained him, against his own purpose, at Geneva, to employ him there in his service, and ordered other things in a most wonderful manner, and, strange to say, by my instrumentality, for I pressed him to undertake affairs harder than death. And sometimes he besought me, in the name of God, to have pity on him, and to let him serve God ardently in the way in which he had always been employed. But, seeing that what I demanded was according to God’s will, he did violence to his own will, and has accomplished more and more rapidly than anyone else, and has even surpassed himself. How glorious a course he has run! God grant that we may run as he has, according to the grace given unto us!”
It seems Farel heard more definitely that his friend was still alive, and expressed his intention to visit him. Calvin knew what an effort this would cost the aged pastor, and thus wrote to him: “Farewell, my best and truest brother. Since it is the Lord’s will that you should survive me in this world, never forget our friendship, which, so far as it has been useful to the church of God, will bear fruit for us in heaven. Pray do not weary yourself by coming hither on my account. My breath is weak, and I expect that every moment will be the last. I am contented that I live and die in Christ, who is the reward of the people, both in life and in death. To you and the brethren, still once more, farewell.”
This letter could not stay the feet of the good old man. He went to Geneva with the feeling, “Oh that I might die for him!” He wept, prayed, spent his last night and took his last leave of him, whom he ever regarded too great for him to call a son, and the next day returned home. Not many days after, Calvin had fallen asleep in Christ—May 27, 1564. It is not probable that Farel stood with the multitude who followed him to his burial, when the republic was laying in the grave one of its wisest counselors, the city one of its truest guardians, the church its chief pastor, the academy its highest teacher, and many of the people their faithful comforter. One may now stand in the very pulpit of St. Peter’s, from which his commanding voice was heard, but we seek in vain for any monument to his memory. There is a doubt about the very place where his body was laid, although later hands have set upon a small level grass-plot a little square stone, about a foot high, and having cut on its top the letters J. C. It was his wish to be buried without pomp, without a monument. His name is upon an enduring system of doctrine and polity in the Christian church, and upon the civilization of the past centuries, which have recognized him as one of the great fathers of civil and religious liberty.
The close and undisturbed friendship of Calvin, Farel, and Viret has been the pleasing theme of all writers, who have sought to do justice to their excellence. The first two seemed unfitted by nature for such a holy brotherhood, for each was firm and stern in his opinions, strong in his will, bold in his temper, and mighty in his power to rule. The wonder is that they did not wish to rule over each other. But neither was jealous nor envious; neither wished to exalt himself, nor to prevent the other from having an influence for the good of the church and the glory of God. Both gave their thoughts, their time, and their energies to the work of that Master, in whose service they were brothers. An unlimited confidence bound them together. Calvin was the great thinker, Farel the great worker of the Reformed church. By nature Calvin was weak for battle, cautious and reserved, but conflict made him strong. Farel was bold enough from birth, always in advance, venturing where others would hardly dare to go, fearless of consequences, and often checking the first good movements by his very bravery, but often conquering by making himself a terror to his adversaries. Conflict subdued him, and while Calvin admired his inexpressible activity and courage, it pleased him to see his “best and truest brother” becoming more gentle and tender in his ways. It might be said of each of them, as of a celebrated crusader, “He was a lamb in his own affairs, but a lion in the cause of God.”
Calvin dedicated his Commentary on the Epistle to Titus to Farel and Viret, in these touching words, “As the condition of my charge resembles that which St. Paul committed to Titus, it seemed to me that it was you, above all others, to whom I ought to dedicate this, my labor. It will, at least, afford those of our own times, and, perhaps, even those who come after us, some indication of our friendship and holy communion. There never have been, I think, two friends, who lived together in such friendship, in the common intercourse of the world, as we have in our ministry. I have exercised the office of a pastor here with you two, and with such entire freedom from any appearance of envy that you and I appeared but as one.”
The subject is worthy of D’Aubigné’s enthusiasm, and when writing of the different work of the scholar and of the missionary, he says “Calvin was the great doctor of the sixteenth century, and Farel the great evangelist; the latter is one of the most remarkable figures in the Reformation.” “Farel had the riches of nature, of art, and of grace. His life was a series of battles and victories. Every time he went forth, it was conquering and to conquer.”
The scholar of the Swiss reform is now dead; the missionary must gird himself, old as he is, for another march and another triumph. His burning zeal must have vent, and he cannot rest at home. If he cannot go into the heart of that France whose invitation just missed him, when he first entered, among the Alps, he will cross the border and try to see the glorious gospel established in Metz before he dies. This city has given him the good chevalier Esch, and Toussaint, who has reaped what he had sown at Montbeliard, besides giving him many honorable scars to signalize his courage, and touch the hearts of those among whom he has sought aid for its suffering protestants.
The ministers consented to his plan, and the senate of Neufchatel commissioned one of their number to attend him, lest their very aged father should fall into danger. There was extraordinary joy on his arrival in the city. On that very day he preached with such energy and power that the church took fresh courage. But it was too much for him; the light was cast at the expense of the lamp. He sank down upon his couch after his return from the pulpit, and with difficulty was carried back to Neufchatel. His room became his church, and he was visited by people of all ranks. He exhorted them to obey the laws of the state and of the church, and to hold fast their profession of faith. Like an apostle he counseled them, like a brother he shared in their sympathies, and like a father he comforted them. All were astonished at his love and zeal in coming to them when so feeble, and at his patience and resignation. “See,” said they to one another, “this man is the very same that he has always been! We never knew him depressed, even when our hearts were failing us for fear. When we were ready to give up everything in despair, he was full of hope, and he cheered us by his Christian heroism!”
He lingered a few weeks, proved to all, who came in tears to his bedside, the power of the Lord to give life to the dying, and gently fell asleep in Christ. He died, September 13, 1565, in the seventy-sixth year of his age, about fifteen months after Calvin’s departure. He was buried in a church-yard of Neufchatel, where he had seen most marvelous changes since the day that he had boldly preached in the streets. The churches of the whole canton lamented his death. The ministers felt that his merits should be known to posterity, and at once proposed to collect materials for his biography.
Who should be his successor at Neufchatel? Viret was chosen, but he declined, for he was engaged in France, probably then at Lyons. A school of theology was rising in Navarre, where the influence of Margaret, the queen, had so favored protestantism that it had been a refuge and a stronghold. Viret was called thither and died two years before the massacre of St. Bartholomew’s day crushed the glorious church in France and filled all Christendom with horror.
The next choice fell upon Christopher Fabri, long before sent into the field by Farel from his couch at Morat. Farel had been so earnest for laborers in the great harvest that he had sometimes put forward young and untried men, who proved unworthy of the trust, but in this brother he was not disappointed. He testified that, during the thirty-one years Fabri had assisted him at Morat, Orbe, Grandson, Thun, and Geneva, and during the three different periods in which they were colleagues at Neufchatel, no grievous misunderstanding had ever arisen between them.
He also was loved by Calvin, who had first heard of him in a strange way. When Calvin was at Basle, before he dreamed of ever living in Geneva, a total stranger one day called. He came to deliver a message from a medical student of Montpelier, who had lately entered the ministry, and had been reading a new book of Calvin’s, that was having a wide popularity. “Fabri has desired me to inform you,” said the unknown, “that he does not entirely approve of certain passages in your book on the Immortality of the Soul.” Brave message, certainly, furnishing a hope that, if the young Fabri should be on the right side, he might prove a courageous reformer. With touching humility Calvin afterwards replied, “Far from being offended at your opinion, I have been much delighted with your simplicity and candor. My temper is not so crabbed as to refuse to others the liberty I enjoy myself. You must know, then, that I have almost entirely re-written my book.”
Few of the many young men, whom the illustrious missionary was the means of putting into the ministry, had so much of his independence as Fabri. As he had been free with Calvin’s book in his younger days, he probably had, in older years, been frank with Farel’s opinions. Once this caused a slight difference between the two pastors at Neufchatel. It was short after Farel’s severe illness in 1553, and after Fabri had taken to himself a new wife. What the misunderstanding was, we know not, but a letter of Calvin shows so much of the spirit of the two pastors and the writer, that we hope it will secure a fresh reading. Calvin writes thus to Farel about his colleague:
“As you are well aware that there are many things which we must endure, because it is not in our power to correct them, I need not spend many words in exhorting you to show yourself gentle and moderate in a contest which is evidently not embittered by personal hostility, if, indeed, that should be called a contest, in which your colleague differs from you, without any malevolent feeling or desire to breed disturbances. In what points I think him defective, as you yourself are my best authority on that subject, I shall for the moment forbear to mention; but one thing we know, that the man is pious and zealous in the discharge of his duty. Add to that, he loves you, is anxious to have your approbation, and both considers and respects you as a parent. Now, if he sometimes carries himself rather more forwardly than he ought, the chief cause seems to me to be this: he fancies that you are too rigid and morose, and so he aims at a certain popularity which may smooth down offenses. Thus the good man, while he is consulting your tranquility and guarding against ill will, which he believes neither of you can stand against, forgets the firmness and dignity which should belong to a minister of Christ; and, while he imposes on you the necessity of resisting him, he furnishes the gainsayers with arms to assail your common (mutual) ministry. I see how vexatious and provoking a proceeding this is, nor am I ignorant how much blame his fault deserves. But your own prudence and love of fair dealing will suggest to you that you ought to number up the good qualities which counterbalance his defects. … You bore with Chaponneau, not only a man of no mark, but one who seemed born for kindling strife. With how much greater reason, then, should you strive to foster peace with a man who both desires to faithfully serve the Lord along with you, and abhors all rancorous dissensions! If you bear in mind how few tolerably good ministers we have in the present day, you will be on your guard how you slight a man who is both honest and diligent, endowed, moreover, with other most estimable gifts. Let him only feel that you love him, and I answer for it, you will find him tolerably docile.”
This balm healed the wound, and at death Farel could look back on the past and declare that no misunderstanding had ever arisen between them, so completely was this affair forgotten. In this Farel proved how worthy he was of the titles so often found in Calvin’s letters, such as “my sound-hearted brother,” “my very honest friend,” “my excellent and upright brother,” “my guide and counselor.”
The new pastor, Fabri, could join with the people of his charge in holding sacred the memory of their much-loved father, and in carrying forward their enterprises after the plans which he had adopted. Elisha was content to follow in the steps of the ascended Elijah. When the ministers met for deliberation, years afterwards, it was often said of certain measures proposed, “So it was in our Father Farel’s time,” or, “So Father Farel would have ordered it.”
The church at Neufchatel was very zealous for the doctrines which Farel had taught them, and they also insisted that they were more indebted to him than to the government. When the Helvetic confession appeared, and a French edition was published at Geneva, the ministers of Neufchatel were notified that their church, that planted by Farel, had been overlooked. They had not been asked to sign it. They translated the slight to mean that they were not considered sound in doctrine. Therefore they wrote to the clergy of Zurich, assuring them that they still held to the doctrines avowed by them in Farel’s time. And, if it was supposed that they could not adopt the confession with the consent of their government, they have this to say, “When our forefathers, by the grace of God, received the gospel, it was done without the consent and even the disapprobation of the government. For in religious matters we have so much liberty that no one can exercise any arbitrary power over us. If our departed friend, Farel, had done nothing without such consent, he would never have established the reformation among us.” Not only does this show their respect for the devoted missionary, but also the religious liberty he had introduced among them by his example and his doctrines. He had broken the chains of mental bondage, and, with Calvin, had brought freedom of religious opinion and worship.
This Swiss Elijah was not simply a powerful preacher; he was a man mighty in prayer, and when he must face opposition he laid firmly hold of the promises of God. He felt that they were meant for him. In his letters and writings he often breaks forth into thanksgivings, prayers, and intercessions. His element was fellowship with God. At the “altars of Baal,” he lifted up his commanding voice to heaven, and help came from on high. His fervent prayers carried away his hearers. When from the pulpit he earnestly implored the divine power, Christ came down and touched the hearts of the hearers; the Holy Dove came brooding upon the assembly and stilling the tumult of the people. When they were in rage against him, he could pray them into silence. In his preface to the Psalms, Calvin paid a hearty tribute to the eloquence of his friend, and to “those thunders of the word by which he had been enchained at Geneva.” In a letter, cautioning him against the length of his sermons, he refers also to the fervency of prayer, and says, “You are mistaken if you expect from all an ardor equal to your own.”
Having fulfilled those words of our Lord, “I am not come to send peace on earth but a sword,” he placed over the sword in his family arms, the motto, “What would I, but that it were kindled?” Farel had wielded the sword of the Spirit, and brought down fire from heaven, and of all the reformers he was the one who most appeared in “the spirit and power of Elias.”