Geneva’s fall from grace was a top-down affair, cheered by her seminaries and blessed by her ministers. The proximate cause was the influence of the seminary across the border in Saumur, France, where ministerial students returning to Geneva questioned the old Evangelical Calvinism of earlier times. The previous generation had witnessed Voltaire taking up residence, and Rousseau a frequent visitor. In time, Cartesian philosophy replaced theology, and rationalism virtually expunged heartfelt religion among the pastors.
While skeptics challenge the Bible, the Genevese pastors solved the problem in 1805 by commissioning a new translation, removing or altering troublesome texts. Creeds and catechisms that proclaimed salvation through the atoning work of Christ were also embarrassing to the new thinking, and so instruction of Geneva’s youth fell by the wayside.
Great effort was taken to expunge references to the Deity of Christ and the Persons of the Trinity in the new Bible. Here was a Jesus who could be held up as a good example without what the Genevese preachers considered the embarrassing claims of divinity. Yet, God left not His truth without a witness, for three pastors in the National Church of Geneva still clung to a semblance of the old evangelical doctrines of the Reformation. Their names were Cellerier, Moulinie and Peschier. There had also been a quiet group of Moravian Brethren who offered a home to those fleeing the cold, unbelieving rationalism that dominated the official churches.
It was into such a city that an Englishman named Robert Haldane ventured in the year 1816. Haldane’s own conversion is a remarkable testimony to the doctrine salvation by grace alone which was then so unpopular in Geneva. As J.I. Good relates Haldane’s conversion and subsequent time in Geneva (from which the details of this account are drawn), he begins with his sibling:
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