William Farel was born in 1489. He died on September 13, 1565. He was a significant figure in the Protestant Reformation and was the man who, from a human standpoint, was responsible for John Calvin’s coming to minister in Geneva.
Farel was a student at the University of Paris during the early years of the Reformation when Martin Luther was calling for reform in Germany. Luther’s influence had reached Paris, and Farel was right in the middle of the debates over the ideas of the Reformation.
During this time, Farel came under the influence of Jacobus Faber, also known as Jacques Faber, who was a Catholic theologian. Faber was an acquaintance of Desiderius Erasmus, and being influenced by Erasmus’ work, he paid significant attention to the Reformation. Faber helped Farel get his first job as a professor of grammar and philosophy in Paris, and Faber appointed Farel to be a preacher in 1522.
In his position as the preacher for the dioceses, Farel was responsible for appointing other ministers. A number of the ministers he appointed were Protestants. In the course of his interactions with them, these Protestant ministers influenced Farel and introduced him to Luther’s ideas. Somewhere in the middle of all of this, Farel was converted and sided with the cause of the Reformation.
Because of his newfound faith and the surrounding controversies, he fled Paris and went to Switzerland. He spent some time in Zurich with Huldrych Zwingli and also spent some time with Luther. Farel saw himself as an evangelist, and in 1530, he set his sights on the town of Neuchâtel and convinced the town to join the Reformation.
After Neuchâtel, he set his sights on Geneva. He was often kicked out of the city, and at one time, he was beaten. In fact, Farel was even shot at because someone was offended by his preaching, yet he would bring the Reformation to Geneva in 1536. That same year, he heard about a man coming through the city on his way up to Strasbourg. This young man was named John Calvin.
Farel convinced Calvin to stay in Geneva. In fact, in Calvin’s own words, he said, “Upon this, Farel, who burned with a marvelous zeal to advance the gospel, went out of his way to keep me.” Here, Calvin is referring to what Farel had said to him, that if he were to leave the city of Geneva, may God curse his studies.
Farel and Calvin were both kicked out of Geneva in 1538. Calvin finally made it to Strasbourg, and Farel went back to Neuchâtel. Their paths continued to cross, as Farel helped Calvin in his search for a wife and officiated at Calvin’s wedding in 1540.