Abbildungen der Seite

during the period of almost general submission to the Romish yoke, which preserved them from corruption.'-p. 1-3.

The first account which Mr. Gilly received concerning Felix Neff was from the Rev. Francis Cunningham, to whom the Protestant cause owes much ;' and to whom English readers are much indebted for having been 'greatly instrumental' in making them acquainted with the life of Oberlin. What Mr. Gilly first learnt from him was this,--that'a young clergyman was then toiling among a people in Dauphiné, so poor, that they had no means of providing salaries for ministers or schoolmasters; and so little favoured by nature, that for seven months out of twelve, their land lay buried in snow.' He afterwards received from the same quarter, a paper drawn up by Neff himself, describing the nature of his charge, and some of the difficulties he had to encounter. As he was about to make a second journey to the Vaudois, this induced him to visit the scene of Neff's labours on the way. Neff had gone

to his reward a few months before this intention was carried into effect; but from all that Mr. Gilly saw and heard of the effect of his ministry, he judged that a memoir of his short, but extraordinary, career, would not be an uninteresting addition to the Christian records of the age in which we live. Neff's own journals were afterwards communicated to him by Miss Mary Elliott, of Westfield Lodge; and if, he says, “I had been put in possession of all the circumstances relating to these papers,

I believe I should have had to state that many of Neff's noble projects could not have been carried into effect, but for the benevolent friend in England to whom his journals were consigned.' The information relating to his early life and to his death was obtained from a brief biographical Notice published at Geneva. From these materials, with the advantage of having made himself acquainted with every hamlet within Neff's extensive charge, and of his own fresh impressions made upon the spot, Mr. Gilly has composed the present volume-a volume as honourable to himself


be instructive and useful to others. Felix Neff was born in 1798, and brought up by his widowed mother in a village near Geneva. Like many other excellent men he owed his first strong impressions to the effect produced by maternal vigilance, and to lessons taught by female lips. She laid the foundation, and the village pastor instructed him in Latin, history, geography, and botany. Of the few books within his reach, Plutarch's Lives, and some of the unobjectionable volumes of Rousseau, are said to have been his favourites; the former because they filled his mind with the exploits of great men; the latter because they encouraged the delight which natural scenery, whether beautiful or grand, excited in him. His boyish VOL. XLIX. NO, XCVII.




aspirations were for military fame, or for scientific research. When it was time for him to enter upon some way of life in which he could earn a subsistence, he engaged himself to a nursery-man and floristgardener; and at the age of sixteen published a little treatise on the culture of trees, which was much praised for its arrangement, its accuracy, and the habit of careful observation that it evinced. At seventeen, however, he entered as a private into the military service of Geneva, and exchanged the quiet and humble walk of the florist's garden for the bustle of the garrison.' Two years afterwards he was promoted to the rank of serjeant of artillery; and having obtained notice by his knowledge of mathematics, he made that science his study during his continuance in the army. That continuance was not long. But this second change of pursuit was occasioned by no fickleness or infirmity of purpose.

It is said that his officers were jealous of the influence which he obtained over his comrades; that he was too religious for them, and that they wished him out of the service ;—the serious turn of his mind in fact became so marked, that he was advised to quit it, and to prepare himself for holy orders.

Accordingly he quitted the army, and placed himself under proper instruction, after due deliberation and frequent prayer. That he might the better mark, learn, and inwardly digest' the scriptures, he made a concordance for himself, and filled the margins of several Bibles with notes. Some of these are still in possession of his friends, and are consulted as the voice of one who being dead yet speaketh.' His powers of acquirement and his aptitude for abstracted study were remarkable, and his conversation not less so; it was prompt, easy, and agreeable, but always to the point, in short sentences, and in few words.

A good practice which obtained in the primitive churches, and of which we find some traces in the ecclesiastical establishment of Scotland—is in use among the Protestants of France and Switzerland. The theological student, after certain examinations, is received as a Proposant by those who exercise the pastoral office, and employed as a lay-helper, or catechist, in their parishes. He is not permitted to perform services which are strictly sacerdotal, but to instruct the young, visit the sick, and, at the discretion of the pastor to preach from the pulpit. He is acting under the eye of an experienced minister; he has an example and a teacher before him to regulate his actions and opinions ; he is trying his own strength, and feeling his way, and assuring himself of his preference and fitness for the sacred work, before the irrevocable step is taken. It is not too late to retire if he finds himself, in any degree, unequal to the arduous charge. We entirely agree with Mr. Gilly and with Dr. Adams, whom he has quoted



on this subject, that such a system of probationary exercise might most advantageously be introduced in our own establishment. It is greatly required ; and the church would thus obtain an accession of labourers, which it much needs.

In this capacity Neff was employed during three years in the neighbourhood of Geneva, and in the cantons of Neufchatel, Berne, and the Pays de Vaud ;-in the latter at a trying time, when religious controversy was carried on, as it usually is, in a most irreligious spirit. There was no bitterness in Nefi's nature; he saw that there was too little zeal on the one side-too little faith—perhaps too little sincerity; but that on the other, with which he was otherwise in union, there was a want of discretion and of charity. • The Lord,' said he, ‘has opened a wide door for the preaching of the gospel in this canton, which will not soon be shut, provided that the preachers conduct themselves with prudence, and are cautious not to agitate any question which is of secondary importance only, and which, without being directly necessary to salvation, may excite suspicion that some schism is intended.' Were all of his profession to feel and think thus, and to act accordingly, there would soon be no sects in the Christian world, except such as were purely fanatical or purely factious.

When he was in his twenty-fourth year he was invited, still in the same capacity, into France, to Grenoble ; and after six months tarriance there, to Mens, in the department of the Isere, there to supply, as far as that capacity admitted, the place of an absent pastor. Here he had many difficulties to contend with : · He was a stranger, and an object of suspicion to the local authorities; his office and functions were but ill defined ; and he had to acquire the patois of the people, which is widely different from the French : worse than all, a cold and heartless Christianity prevailed among them, in consequence of that rage for controversy which made them think more of other people's spiritual condition than of their own.' To counteract the dispiriting tendency of these circumstances, there was that incessant employment for which his soul thirsted. There were in that department about eight thousand Protestants, scattered over a surface of about eighty miles square,

with only three regular pastors to look after them, and of these one was now absent. Nothing but an iron frame could enable Neff to go through the toil which his reputation soon imposed upon him ; perhaps he trusted to it too confidently, and exacted from it too much. But it rather seems that he had not an iron frame to begin with :— With respect to my health,' he says, ' at this time, it is much stronger since I have been constantly on the move, and making long excursions, although many of them are very fatiguing; for it often happens that I go several leagues, and perform as

E 2


many as four or five services in one day, especially on Sundays. I have not unfrequently been thus engaged from five o'clock in the morning till eleven at night, and all this without any cough, or ailment

of the stomach. I have recovered my appetite, and can drink wine at my meals without any inconvenience. It is apparent, therefore, that his constitution was not strong, and that the form of that malady which at no distant time destroyed him had already shown itself. But he had devoted himself to his calling, with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his strength; and his inclination entirely accorded with his duty. 'A sedentary or a fixed life,' said he, has no pleasures for me; I should not like to be constantly labouring in one place; I would infinitely rather lead the wandering life of a missionary. This is not a healthy state of mind for civilized man ; but it fitted Neff for his work. And thus,' says his biographer, among the diversities of gifts, and among

the differences of administration by which the manifestation of the Spirit is granted for man's profit withal, the Almighty was pleased to raise up a teacher for the natives of the French Alps, whose habits and tastes exactly suited the wants of a people who had not the benefit of a sufficient supply of resident pastors.'

• One of the districts, which he visited with the greatest personal satisfaction to himself, was that of Vizille. Its situation, on the banks of the Romanche, one of the wildest mountain torrents in France, with lofty mountains encircling it on all sides, had great attractions for him. The place, too, where his little flock was folded, had charms of a peculiar nature for his turn of mind. It was a large hall in the Gothic castle of the family of Lesdiguières. The celebrated constable of France, of that name, was the champion of the Huguenot cause in his youth, but apostatized from it in old age, when ambition and cold worldly calculation got the better of the more generous feel.. ings of his earlier days. The present possessor of the castle, actuated by a better spirit, lent his fine baronial hall as a place of worship to the Protestants; and the congregations which gathered round Neff were so attentive to his lessons of piety, that he always spoke of Vizille as his “ dear Vizille." —pp. 56, 57.

An interesting passage occurs in one of his letters written at tliis time :

• I was lately accosted by several peasant women, one of whom begged me to give her a copy of the prayer, which I had delivered on the previous Sunday, before my sermon. I asked her name and residence, and told her to come to me on the following Sunday. She kept to her appointment, and I then gave her the prayer, and with it a little tract containing the parable of the ten virgins. These interviews made me desirous of knowing more of her, and I proposed to accompany her some day to her own village. Yesterday Elizabeth and I set out together for her parents' cottage, and as we walked along, she told


is now.

me that many of the young women of the neighbourhood met at appointed times to practise psalm-singing, and to read the Bible. Upon reaching the village where she lived, which is charmingly situated in the midst of trees, at the foot of a high mountain, and on the edge of a torrent, I was most kindly received by her parents. They said they could not themselves go to church, but that their daughter always repeated to them that which she had heard. The old man recounted a history of the persecutions which his own parents and himself had suffered, and he added, “ In those times there was more zeal than there

My father and mother used to cross mountains and forests by night, in the worst weather, and at the risk of their lives, to be present at Divine service performed in secret, but now we are grown lazy. Religious freedom is the death-blow to piety.” He afterwards talked to me of his unhappiness in having only one son left, a young man of eighteen, who was clever, and blessed with a good memory, and had read the Bible, and all the pious books in the house, but who did not believe in the word of God.'-pp. 58, 59.

When he had been thus employed about five months, several persons, principally heads of families, lamenting that he had not been appointed to the station of assistant-pastor, petitioned the Consistory to retain him under the designation of pastor-catechist, and offered to provide a stipend for him. This was done, aud during the two years which he passed among them visible good was affected; and there continued afterwards to be a sensible improvement in the manners and industrious habits of the Protestants. The fruits were more apparent to others than to himself. subject of humiliation for him, even for affliction—to perceive that he was regarded as a saint almost exempt from sin. He saw that the people attached themselves too much to him personally, and too little to the Saviour whose servant he was. · And he said one day with deep feeling to M. Blanc,' the pastor whom he assisted,- they love me too much, they receive me with too much pleasure, they speak of me too well ; indeed they do not know me.' There was a village which he frequently visited, and where he was heard attentively but apparently to little purpose ; at length something like signs of life appeared to three or four young persons,' and one day instead of going away as usual at the termination of the service, all the people kept their seats and remained silent:

Full,' says he, ‘of real esteem for these poor creatures I rested my head upon my hands, and offered up a secret prayer to God in their behalf. They thought I was taken ill, and many anxious inquiries were put to me; I lifted up my head, and said, I am not ill, my friends, but I am distressed on your account; I am thinking that most of you have already forgotten what you have just heard, and it is this that grieves me. The pastor at Mens, whose place Neff had in part supplied,


It was a

« ZurückWeiter »