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 cannon 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 a 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 an 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 to 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, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). April 11.

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