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Muzzled in Geneva, César Malan Became an Evangelist to all Europe

Malan brought revival to Geneva.

ON THIS DAY, 7 July 1787, Henri Abraham César Malan was born in Geneva, Switzerland. He would bring revival to that city and much of Europe. 

Malan’s mother was a woman of good character. Despite losing her hearing and most of her sight while young, she strove to be a burden to no one. She taught Malan his faith. His father, Jacque Imbert Malan was also a man of exemplary character, but intellectually followed radicals Voltaire and Rousseau. But he showed his noble spirit when he had the opportunity to reclaim some land taken from his Waldensian ancestors years earlier when they were persecuted. When he found this would leave their present owners destitute, he turned down the inheritance. As a consequence, the Malans sometimes lived in poverty themselves. 

Malan’s mother taught him to respect the divinity of Christ. As a teenager, he defended Christ to his classmates, although he did not yet know him as savior. He later wrote that when he was studying for the ministry, no instruction was given him on the divinity of Christ, man’s fallen nature, or the doctrine of justification by faith. Contemporaries agree that Geneva, while holding to Calvinist forms, had lost Calvin’s faith. Malan was not even required to read the New Testament in seminary. A rationalist, he became a brilliant teacher and was licensed to preach. His professors lauded him. 

Earnest and decent, Malan did not even realize he needed salvation until one day he preached at a village church. After the service, the regular pastor said, “It appears to me, sir, that you have not yet learned that, in order to convert others, you must be converted yourself. Your sermon was not a Christian discourse and I sincerely hope my people didn’t understand it.” Shocked, Malan began to study and preach justification by faith. His professors from the Geneva Academy, who denied the Trinity and Christ’s divinity, became hostile to him. 

Malan became more vocal as he learned more . In reaction, Genevan authorities required all pastors to take an oath not to preach on original sin, the operation of grace, predestination, and the ways the divine and human are united in Christ. Leaders of the Church of Geneva deprived Malan of his posts, plunging him into desperate financial straits. The Lord sent help from Christians elsewhere in Europe, who supported Malan, his wife, and six children. 

Malan began holding church services in his own home. Eventually, he built a chapel on his property—“The Chapel of Testimony.” Through God’s providence it was paid for within eight months of its completion. And Malan became a missionary to other European countries, making long preaching tours through Belgium, Scotland, France, and England. 

In addition to his ministerial, educational and missionary work, he wrote hundreds of hymns and tunes. Typical of their spirit is this couplet:

“Jesus, Thou Prince of Life! Thy chosen cannot die;
Like Thee, they conquer in the strife, To reign with Thee on high.”

Dan Graves

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Christian History has explored the lives of several notable evangelists including the Wesleys, George Whitefield, D. L. Moody, Charles Finney, Billy Graham, and E. Stanley Jones

Billy Graham: An Extraordinary Journey can be streamed at RedeemTV

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