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November, 1526, he left his guarded chamber to enter upon the plans he had formed for rescuing France from the hands of the pope. He was then thirty-five years of age, pure in his life, charming in his character, devoted to study, flaming with zeal, and indomitable in his energy. His enemies feared him; Beda said to himself that Berquin would be the Luther of France.
But Berquin could not advance a great system of gospel-truth. He could preach duties, but could not raise up a fortress of doctrines into which the trembling might flee and be safe. His work was to resist Beda and the '' three thousand monks'' that were in him, and to die such a noble martyr that one of the executioners would say publicly, to the great vexation of the judges,—"No better Christian has died for a hundred years than Berquin.''
Was the reformer of France to be Farel? He was then her greatest light. Toussaint was waiting for him to appear, and . let us see how it was that this most fervent, most eloquent, most intrepid and persevering of the French reformers before Calvin, came not back to his own country, but went to Switzerland, to set the western Alps on fire.
When the king recalled the other exiles Farel was left behind. He saw his friends returning to their country, wondered why he must remain alone in exile, and, overwhelmed with sorrow, cried to God for resignation. He still remained at Strasburg, with one foot on the border, waiting for a call, but the order did not come. The king and his sister did not wish so bold a man in the land. They were afraid of him. The court had no taste for his style of preaching; they "wished for a softened and perfumed gospel in France.''
There were Christians in the land, who saw that the men at Margaret's court would stop half way in the work, and accomplisli nothing permanent. In their view, France needed a man of artless nature, fearless spirit, powerful eloquence, and ability to give a new impulse to the work which Lefevre had begun. They thought of Farel, but his coming seemed to depend upon the duchess. Roussel knew her fears. He knew that Farel would be a preacher and not a courtier, and he would never agree with her policy. Still the noble and devout Roussel felt that such a man was greatly needed, and he tried to open the way for him to put forth his mighty labours in some of the provinces. "I will obtain the means of providing for all your wants," he wrote on the 27th of August, 1526, "until the Lord gives you an entrance, at last, among us."
This, also, was Farel's earnest desire. He was not then invited to Switzerland. His country possessed his heart; day and night his eyes were turned toward the gates which were so strangely shut against him; he went up and knocked. None came to open them. He was depressed and he exclaimed, "Oh! if the Lord would but open a way for me to return and labour in France!'' Suddenly there was a prospect that his greatest wishes would be realized.
On the day of a grand reception at court, the two sons of Prince Robert de la Marche came to pay their respects to the king's sister. Margaret, ever intent on winning souls, said to Roussel, her eyes indicating the persons meant,
"Speak to those two young princes; seize I pray, this opportunity of advancing the cause of Jesus Christ."
"I will do so," replied the willing chaplain. He approached the young' noblemen, and began to converse about the gospel. They showed no astonishment, but listened with a lively interest. Finding that they were not strangers to the good word, he
urged them to extend the truth among their subjects.
They gave their fullest assent to his words, but felt that they were too weak for the task of making known the gospel. Roussel now thought he had found a field for the pining exile, and he said to the young nobles, "I know of but one man fitted for such a great work: he is William Farel. Christ has given him an extraordinary talent for making known the riches of his glory. Invite him."
"We desire it still more than you," said the young princes. 4' Our father and we will open our arms to him. He shall be to us as a son, a brother, and a father. Let him fear nothing; he shall live with us; yes, in our own palace. All whom he will meet there are the friends of Jesus Christ. We ourselves will be there to receive him. Only bid him make haste; let him come before next Lent.''
"I promise you that he shall," replied Roussel, and he began to think how he should lay all this before Farel. Toussaint wrote and added his entreaties; "Never has any news caused me more joy; hasten thither as fast as you can."
Thus was a plan laid for Farel to come into almost the centre of France. So confident were the young princes of his coming, that they undertook to set up a printing establishment in order that he might circulate the truth by means of the press, not only in La Marche, but throughout the kingdom.
"Farel would have been the man fitted for this work," says D'Aubigne. "He was one of those whose simple, serious, earnest tones carry away the masses. His voice of thunder made his hearers tremble. The strength of his convictions created faith in their souls; the fervour of his prayers raisetl them to heaven. When they listened to him, 'they felt,' as Calvin says, 'not merely a few light stings, but they were wounded and pierced to the heart; and hypocrisy was dragged from those wonderful and more than tortuous hiding-places which lie deep in the heart of man.' He pulled down and built up with equal energy. He was not only a minister of the word; he was a bishop also. He was able to discern the young men who were fitted to wield the weapons of the gospel, and to direct them in the great war of the age. Farel never attacked a place, however difficult of access, which he did not take. Such was the man then called into France, and who seemed destined to be her reformer.'' The letters of Koussel and Toussaint were on the way; but already Farel had another invitation before him. Let us see whence it came.
On the shield of an ancient Swiss city was the figure of a bear,* and the wits called its people the "bears of Berne." It was the centre of a little republic, whose freemen caught the spirit of the great awakening, and as early as 1518 held out attractions to literary men. Berne, whose soldiers had won renown, must have its scholars as well as Basle and Zurich. The next year appeared among them a young man of twenty-one, named Berthold Haller, who had been a fellow-student with Melancthon. Haller won the hearts of the people and soon became the preacher of the cathedral. The gospel which Zwingle was teaching came to the city, and Haller examined it, believed, and began to declare it. But the "bears" were not lambs, willing to be led in the new pastures of truth, without making enough resistance to discourage the meek and timid shepherd. He wished to see Zwingle and talk to him as a son to a father. So, taking with him his burden of trials, he paid a visit to Zurich. He was kindly received by this "first of the reformers," whose gentleness imparted a charm to his manners. Zwingle was pleased with this young man of about twenty-eight years, tall, artless, candid and diffident, but who gave fair promise of being the reformer of Berne.
* The old Germans called a bear a "bern," and for centuries he has been the favourite of all pets in that city. His image is still upon sign-posts, fountains, and public buildings. Living specimens were kept in the town at the public expense, and when the French army, in 1798, carried the bears captive to the gardens of Paris, the people lamented their loss. But when the ancient order of things was restored, one of the first cares of the citizens was to replace their ancient pensioners, and secure for them an endowment. The visitor who does not pay his respects to the bears may expect to be regarded as very disrespectful by the Bernese. They are "the lions" of the city.—Murray's Handbook for Switzerland.
''My soul is overwhelmed,'' said Haller one day; "I cannot support such unjust treatment. I am determined to resign my pulpit and retire to Basle, to employ myself entirely, in Wittembach's society, with the study of sacred learning." This desire for study was strong in the first reformers.
"Alas!" replied Zwingle, "and I too feel discouragement creep over me, when I see myself unjustly assailed; but Christ awakens my conscience by the terrible stimulus of his terrors and promises. He alarms me by saying, 'Whosoever shall be ashamed of me before men, of him shall I be ashamed before my Father.' He restores me to tranquillity by adding, 'Whosoever shall confess me before men, him also will I confess before my Father.' Oh my dear Berthold, take courage! Our names are written in imperishable characters in the annals of the citizens on high. I am ready to die for Christ. Oh, that your fierce bears would hear the. gospel; then they would grow tame. But you must undertake this duty with great gentleness, lest they should turn round furiously and rend you in pieces.'' ♦
Haller took courage, went home, laboured gently, and then