« AnteriorContinuar »
CHRISTIAN PARLOR MAGAZINE, .
FELIX NEFF, AND HIS L A BORS.
BY R. BAIRD, D. D
(SEE PLATE.) Few men of our time have obtained more cele- so that he took more pleasure in contemplating brity as faithful and indefatigable servants of the wonderful works of God which surrounded Jesus Christ, than Felix Neff. His career was his native place, than in the boyish sports of short, but glorious. He scarcely attained the his equals in age, or the vain amusements of age of Henry Martyn or David Brainerd; he the adjacent city. His delight, when disposed was cut off before he had reached thirty-one to seek relaxation from his studies, was to years. His “sun went down whilst it was wander away to the Jura mountains on the one yet day.” But, as the departing rays of the hand, or the Alps on the other, which elevate great natural luminary often leave the western their lofty heads to the clouds on their respectsky gloriously illumined long after the splendid ive sides of the magnificent valley through orb from which they emanate has sunk below which flows the Rhone, expanding, in a part of the horizon ; so the piety, the zeal, the amaz- its course, into the beautiful lake Leman. ing labors of Neff amid the frightful valleys of Under the kind instruction of the pastor of the Alps, have not ceased to shed their hea- his native village, Neff made considerable provenly influence upon the world to this day. gress at an early age, in Latin, Botany, History Destitute of the early advantages and the science and Geography. The intervals between severof Henry Martyn, he was the equal of that er studies, were occupied in reading Plutarch's wonderful man in natural talent and zeal, Lives of Grecian and Roman Heroes, and other and far excelled him in energy of character. works of a historical nature. To these were On the other hand, possessing the devoted piety added some of the more fascinating of the popuand consuming passion for the salvation of men lar French works of that day. In this way, a and the glory of God, which characterized the love of military and scientific distinction was life of David Brainerd, he resembled him both created in his bosom, which probably had a in the shortness and the sufferings of his mis- great influence in giving him that decision and sionary career.
energy which formed so remarkable an element Felix Neff was born in a village near Gene
in his character in after life. va, in Switzerland, in the year 1798, and was But as it was necessary that he should pureducated in the pure doctrines of the Gospel by sue some business for a livelihood, he was his pious mother, who was a widow. His dis- placed in the service of a nursery-gardener. position, even in early childhood, was serious, This pursuit seems to have interested him, for
at the early age of sixteen he published a Treatise on Trees, which was exceedingly creditable to his talents, and attracted no inconsiderable attention towards its youthful author.
But his active spirit growing weary of the confinement of the narrow limits of an orchard, he entered, when in his eighteenth year, the military service of Geneva, as a private soldier. Two years afterwards he was made a sergeant of artillery, because of his theoretical and practical knowledge of mathematics. Soon after, he became pious under the preaching of the late M. Gonthier, one of the ten or fifteen young men who became converted about the year 1816, during the visit of the late Robert Haldane, Esq., of Edinburgh. M. Gonthier, after he had finished his studies, was chosen one of the Pastors of the Church in the Bourgdu-Four, now the Church of the Pellisserie, in Geneva.
Not long after his conversion, Neff deemed it his duty, after consulting with his religious friends, and especially the pastors of the Church which he had joined, to prepare to preach the Gospel. Accordingly, in the year 1819, he began to conduct and exhort religious meetings, as a candidate or licentiate, assisting the ordained ministers in and about Geneva, who desired his aid. Soon afterwards he began to labor in the same capacity in the Cantons of Vaud, Neu. chatel and Berne.
Three years were thus spent by this eminent servant of Christ. It was of little consequence to him that the office which he held was an humble and laborious one. It was enough that it gave him abundant opportunities for making known the blessed Gospel to perishing souls. The Lord smiled upon his exertions. Many persons, there is reason to believe, received spiritual benefit from his exhortations. The Memoirs of his life and labors, written by the Rev. Mr. Gilly and the Rev. Mr. Bost, record some striking instances of the success of his labors, one of the most remarkable of which was the conversion of a poor soldier, once his companion in arms, who, whilst intoxicated, had committed murder. Neff heard of his case, and visited him whilst lying in prison under sentence of death, and preached to him a crucified and merciful Saviour. Nor did he labor in vain for this wretched murderer; he had the pleasure of seeing him accept salvation, and become a "new creature in Christ Jesus.” The sentence of death was commuted into that of imprisonment for life; and this now Christian convict lived to adorn the blessed Gospel, and
to labor to make others, his fellow convicts, acquainted with it.
In the year 1821, Neff, then in his twentyfourth year, resolved to go into the south-eastern part of France, where there were but few Protestant pastors, and therefore greater need of an evangelist to visit the villages which were destitute of the regular ministrations of the Word. He was first invited to Grenoble, where he labored about six months in the capacity of assistant to a Protestant pastor.
From Grenoble he went to Mens, in the De. partment of Isère, to supply, as far as he could, the place of an absent pastor. Here he labored nearly two years, amid many difficulties, but with no unequivocal evidences of success. In M. Blanc, one of the pastors, he found a brother indeed, to whom he soon became strongly attached, and who still lives to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But the work which Neff had to do as an assistant was not well defined, and the most of the Protestants among whom he labored, were in a very cold state. His style of preaching, so fervid, so pungent, was unpalatable to them. Besides, bis field was immense, for it embraced, in a sense, the whole Department of Isère, in which there were about 8,000 Protestants, scattered over a surface of nearly eighty miles square, with only three regular pastors to look after them, one of whom was now absent. To all the other difficulties which he had to encounter, was added that arising from the language spoken by the masses of the people. This language was a patois, or dialect, kindred to the Provençal, of which the French supplied but few terms.
But the perseverance of Neff triumphed over everything. He soon acquired a perfect knowledge of the dialect spoken by the people ; his iron constitution enabled him to undergo fatigues which would soon have broken down an ordinary man. And sucli was the force of his eloquence, that it soon wore a way for him to the hearts of the villagers throughout the vast field of his labors. God smiled upon
his exertions. He soon had the pleasure of seeing Christians stirred up to greater activity, souls dead in sins awakened to life, and the thoughts of many directed to the subject of religion. He availed himself of every opportunity of preaching the Gospel, both in the churches and in private houses. At funerals, and other extraordinary occasions, he failed not to call the attention of the people to their immortal interests. He collected the youth together and formed
FELIX NEFF AND HIS LABORS.
classes of Catechumens, whom he instructed very much as Bible-classes are taught with us. Each scholar learned a few verses, and repeated them in turn. Afterwards a familiar exposition on the part of the minister followed. Portions of the catechism used in the French Protestant churches were also learned and recited.
Much of Neff's attention was turned to the task of teaching the villagers of his great parish, to sing psalms and other spiritual songs. Strange as it may seem to those who think the French a gay, laughing, singing, dancing race, Neff found that the lower classes in Mens and the surrounding villages, almost wholly, had not the least notion of music. He complains in one of his letters, that “ they do not sing at all, neither well nor ill, no, not even songs.” But he soon had the pleasure of seeing them not only begin to learn, but even to make great progress.
And by means of religious songs and hymns, he caused divine truth to gain access to many minds into which it had not hitherto penetrated.
Neff's health was at this time excellent. It was well it was so, for otherwise he could not have undergone his wonderful labors. Read his own language : “With respect to my health, it is much stronger since I have been constantly in motion and making long excursions; although many of these are very fatiguing. For it often happens that I leagues,* and perform as many as four or five services in one day, especially on Sundays. I have not unfrequently been thus engaged, instructing or conversing, from five o'clock in the morning till eleven at night.”
In the spring of 1823, Neff determined to seek a regular ordination as a minister of Jesus Christ. But where to obtain this, perplexed him not a little. As the clergy of the Established Church of Geneva, in which he had been brought up, and to which he was in heart, as well as by education, strongly attached, bad almost all departed from the true faith, he could not bring his mind to seek it at their hand. He could not obtain it from the pastors of the Protestant Church in France, because he was a foreigner. He therefore went over to England, and was ordained in London, in the chapel of the Rev. John Clayton, by a council of Independent ministers. This occurred in the month of May. The confession which he made on that occasion, is a noble monument of the
soundness and clearness of his religious knowledge.
But his stay in the English metropolis was not long. He could speak little or no English, and he met with few persons who could converse with him in French. Besides his heart was in the Alps, and he hastened back to enter upon his work. Great was the joy of the people. In some of the villages, the population came forth almost in a mass to bid him wel. come ; so great was the enthusiasm which this event inspired.
But he did not long stay in the Department of Isère after his ordination. The pastor whose place he had, in a sense, supplied, returned after a very protracted absence. He seemed to look upon Neff, if not as an intruder, yet as one who stood in the way of his successful rea instatement as a pastor. Neff, therefore, began to think more earnestly of laboring in the High Alps, a Department lying to the east of Isère, and extending up to the borders of Italy. To that elevated and forbidding region, he had long cast a wistful eye, as furnishing that missionary ground on which he longed to have an opportunity to labor. And soon were his wishes gratified. In the autumn of 1823, he received an invitation from the Protestant Churches in Val Queyras and Val Fressinière, to labor among them, and in the month of November he joyfully obeyed their summons.
But before we enter with him upon his new field, which was to prove his last, let us read the noble testimony which M. Blanc bore respecting him, contained in a letter dated December 1st, 1829, and consequently after the death of the devoted servant of Christ to whom it relates.
“ About five months after the arrival of M. Neff at Mens, more than a hundred persons, principally heads of families, lamenting that he was not appointed to the station of assistant pastor, petitioned the Consistory to retain him under the designation of pastor-catechist, and offered to provide a salary for him, as long as they should have a farthing left. The Consistory nominated M. Neff pastor-catechist, on the 1st of June, 1822. Everywhere, in Mens and its environs, the name of our friend was never pronounced but with respect; and there were few who did not regard him as a saint almost exempt from sin. This was a subject of deep affliction to him, because he saw that they attached themselves too much to him personally, and too little to the Saviour, whose servant he was. He said to me one day with
* A league in France is nearly three English miles.