Few assume greatness by themselves. Behind the scenes often lies an older mentor, watching with pride. John Calvin exists as a hero in church history because of Guillaume Farel.
Farel was a traveling evangelist in France, full of fire and fury. He was likened to Elijah and was called the “scourge of priests.” He considered the pope the Antichrist and viewed the Mass as nothing but idolatry. Priests wishing him dead, carried weapons under their cloaks to assassinate him. After one attempt on his life, he whirled around and faced the priest who had fired the errant bullet, “I am not afraid of your shots,” he roared.
He was small, sunburned, fiery, and powerful. His sermons were canon blasts, and his oratory captivated the nation. He often said too much, and one friend cautioned him, “Your mission is to evangelize, not to curse.”
On April 12, 1523 Farel was forbidden to preach in France. He fled to Switzerland and wandered from town to town, turning stumps and stones into pulpits. When he entered Geneva, the city fathers and priests tried to make him leave. “Who invited you?” They demanded. Farel replied:
I have been baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and am not of the devil. I go about preaching Christ, who died for our sins and rose for our justification. Whoever believes in him will be saved; unbelievers will be lost. I am bound to preach to all who will hear. I am ready to dispute with you, to give account of my faith and ministry. Elijah said to King Ahab, “It is thou, and not I, who disturbest Israel.” So I say, it is you and yours, who trouble the world by your traditions, your human inventions, and your dissolute lives.
He was ridiculed, beaten, shot at, and abused. But he wouldn’t give up on Geneva. Several years later when young John Calvin came passing through. Farel spotted him and gave him a place top minister—and, as it turns out, a place in church history.
Ahab went to meet Elijah, and when he saw him, Ahab shouted, “There you are, the biggest troublemaker in Israel!” Elijah answered, “You’re the troublemaker—not me! You and your family have disobeyed the LORD’s commands by worshiping Baal.” – 1 Kings 18:16b-18
*Robert J. Morgan is the pastor of Donelson Fellowship in Nashville, Tennessee and the author of the best selling Then Sings My Soul, From This Verse, and Red Sea Rules. He conducts Bible conferences, parenting and marriage retreats, and leadership seminars across the country. This article was adapted from the April 11 entry in his book On This Day, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997.
*Significant Events on April 12th in Church History:
352: Pope St. Julius died on this day. He was a staunch defender of Athanasius of Alexandria, and once gave him asylum when the Arians drove him into exile.
1204: In three days of looting, the Fourth Crusade sacked the Christian city of Constantinople. The attack ended any hope of reunifying eastern and western Christendom.
1850: Adoniram Judson, Baptist Missionary pioneer to Burma, died on this day. He translated the Bible into Burmese. At his death, he was on a voyage in an attempt to regain his health and overcome depression that made him doubt his salvation.
1978: Two hundred Makarere Church people were arrested in Uganda under Idi Amin’s cruel regime.
*Adapted from This Day In Christian History, edited by A Kenneth Curtis and Daniel Graves, Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications.