This is the day that … Felix Neff was born in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1798. His father died when he was young and his mother denied him expressions of motherly affection, hoping to increase his manliness. She was a deist, having no interest in worship of God, yet her son displayed a ready keenness for worship and faith.
Despite his religious interests and attendance he was not converted until he read Honey from the Rock by Thomas Willcock. He was struck by the fact that he could bring nothing to God and yet receive everything from Him. He wrote in the book, “Felix Neff has found peace here on these two pages”.
He went on to various forms of ministry, but his serious approach to religion did not go down well with those more given to wordliness. After 2 years of ministry in France, facing various oppositions, he, at the age of 24, was ready to commence his remarkable ministry in the French Alps.
He appreciated the chance to minister where he did not have to confront the shallow state of other ministers.
From village to village he travelled – “in dead of winter through drifts, the thunder of avalanches alone awakening the alpine stillness. In four years he did not sleep five nights successively in the same place. His stomach was destroyed by poor food and the irregularity of meal times. He was always alone …” (A Book of Protestant Saints, by E. Gordon, page 201).
But he persevered. He saw a “marked improvement in the moral life of the people” as they responded to his Christian teaching. He introduced irrigation, taught better methods of potato culture, worked alongside the men of the village, helped build school houses – and even founded a teachers’ training college.
He became known as “the Apostle of the High Alps” of France. He described the conditions of the people thus. “The work of an evangelist in High Alps greatly resembles that of a missionary among the savages; the almost equal degree of uncivilization that prevails among them both, being a great obstacle to missionary labours. Among the valleys, under my charge, that of Freyssinieres is the most backward. Architecture, agriculture, education of every sort is in its very earliest infancy.”
However he did see revival there. “All the people seemed to give themselves up to reading, meditation and prayer; the young people especially seemed animated by a holy spirit; a heavenly flame appeared to have communicated itself from one to another. I had scarcely thirty hours’ rest during the week.”
And on his deathbed he wrote his final letter: “I ascend to our Father in entire peace. Victory! Victory! Through Jesus Christ.”
Felix Neff died at the age of 31.
Neff is called by some the David Brainerd of the High Alps. He had much in common with Brainerd. Both laboured in primitive conditions. Both were young. Both came to their field of labour under a cloud of misrepresentation. Both were highly self-sacrificing. Both remained unmarried. Both died at an early age from over-exertion under conditions of extreme hardship. Both experienced a work of reviving grace. Both were men of prayer.
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. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.