William Farel Brings Calvin to Geneva

This is the day that … William Farel died in 1565.

Farel started his religious career as a disciple of Catholic priest Jacques Lefevre d’Etaples, who promoted reform within the Catholic Church. When Farel’s ideas became more strident he left for Switzerland.

He brought the teaching of the Reformers to Geneva (Switzerland) – even rejoicing to see the Town Council pronounce Protestantism as the official religion! (21 May, 1536). Thus Geneva became the ‘Protestant Rome’.

When he heard that John Calvin, already famous as author of the Institutes of the Christian Religion, was passing through, Farel confronted the 27 year-old theologian in an inn.

He demanded that Calvin remain there and lead in the spiritual life of the city. Calvin replied that he was on his way to Germany to further his studies.

“May God curse your studies,” Farel replied vehemently, “if now in her time of need you refuse to lend your aid to His church.”

Calvin was struck with terror, as he himself later recorded. He stayed!

And with Farel at his side they led Geneva in what has been called “Reformed Theology”.

The strictures of the new Protestant Republic which Farel and Calvin drew up created negative reaction, and so they both ended up leaving Geneva in 1538. However Farel persisted in working to get Calvin back to Geneva to lead the Reformation process from there. This he succeeded in doing in 1541.

The Reformation Wall in Geneva features statues of four men: Farel, Calvin, Theodore Beza and John Knox. William Farel outlived Calvin by 15 months – dying at the age of 76.

His biographer writes: “Those who visited him in his last illness had a foretaste of Heaven. Christ had been magnified in his body, both by life and by death…”

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.

Calvinism is Born

This is the day that … John Calvin was born in 1509, in Noyon, France.

He was to become the outstanding theologian of the Protestant Reformation … although not all Protestants would agree with some of his doctrines. But it must be confessed that many a giant of Christian history acknowledges the impact of Calvinism upon his life. Knox, Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Martyn Lloyd-Jones and James Packer are names that immediately spring to mind. “The longer I live,” wrote Spurgeon, “the clearer does it appear that John Calvin’s system (of theology) is the nearest to perfection.”

Calvin was one of the few reformers who were not an ex-priest. He studied law in France – had a “sudden conversion” in his early 20’s, and in 1536 published the first edition of his famous Institutes of the Christian Religion. This volume has been described as among the “world’s 10 most influential works”.

From 1541 until his death (on 27 May, 1564), Calvin dominated the social and religious life of Geneva … despite the fact that he held no government position, nor was an actual citizen until 1559.

From the pulpit of St Peter’s Cathedral he preached his way through book after book of Holy Writ, lecturing to theological students and preaching five times a week. Taken down by a stenographer, these messages have found their way into print. There is a commentary on every book of the Bible – except Revelation! For example, Calvin preached 200 consecutive sermons on the book of Deuteronomy – published by Banner of Truth in a 1,300 page facsimile edition of the 1583 original.

It was said by his friend, Beza, that when Calvin preached “every word weighed a pound”.

Harsh discipline was meted out (at least, by today’s standards) to law-breakers, a system of education was devised, a prosperous trade in cloth and velvet was established with other countries, even a sewerage system was introduced that made Geneva “one of the cleanest cities in Europe” (Who’s Who in Christian History, page 131).

And his Institutes grew from six chapters to 79.

W. Stanford Reid writes that Calvin became “the dominant figure of the Protestant Reformation in the middle of the (16th) century” (John Calvin – His Influence in the Western World) – an assessment surely none would question.

When he died in 1564 he was buried in a common cemetery without a headstone, according to his wishes. His gravesite is unknown to this day (Christian History magazine, Volume 5/4).

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.