In the summer of 1981 I visited Cambridge, England. As I walked along the streets of this famous university town and passed the different colleges, I tried to recall some of the great men who had studied in its institutions. As I came abreast of the old stately buildings comprising Trinity College, I reflected on a few of its eminent "sons" who had once walked its courts, studied or taught in its halls, and who, each in his own way, had served his generation. The names of Henry Alford, Francis Bacon, Arthur James Balfour, Isaac Barrow, William John Conybeare, John Cotton, Frederic William Farrar, Fenton John Anthony Hort, John Saul Howson, Frederick John Foakes Jackson, John Barber Lightfoot, Handley Moule, Sir Isaac Newton, J. J. Stewart Perowne, John R. W. Stott, and many more came readily to mind.
Of the great men from Cambridge's Trinity College who have made a significant contribution to the cause of Christ, F. W. Farrar (1831-1903), at one time a minister in London's famous Westminster Abbey and later Dean of Canterbury, deserves to be remembered. A graduate of Cambridge (B.A., 1854; M.A., 1857; D.D., 1874), Dr. Farrar spent the early years of his ministry as a highschool teacher. His first appointment to Marlborough College enabled him to serve under the headmaster, Dr. G. E. L. Cotton. Farrar at once endeared himself to the students and provided a powerful stimulus for them through his own literary and intellectual activities.
In 1855 Frederic Farrar transferred to Harrow where he became a house-master, serving initially under Dr. C. J. Vaughn and later under Dr. H. M. Butler. At Harrow he devoted his leisure time to writing. His literary works included fiction, philology, and theology.
Dr. Farrar's work in the area of philology brought him to the attention of the Royal Society and, in 1866, the society conferred a fellowship upon him. Other honors bestowed upon Dr. Farrar included an appointment as chaplain to Queen Victoria, delivering the Hulsean Lectures at Cambridge in 1870 on "The Witness of History to Christ," and giving the Bampton Lectures at Oxford on "The History of Interpretation," in 1886.
In 1871 Dr. Farrar was recalled to Marlborough College as headmaster. It was during this time that he began working on a book on the life of Christ. A year earlier he had visited the Holy Land and his personal knowledge of the places made famous by the Master during His earthly ministry had been vividly impressed upon his mind. It was only after three years of continuous hard work that Dr. Farrar's manuscript was ready to be sent to the publisher. Its success was surprising, for it went through twelve editions in a single year. In time it was also published in large type (2 vols.), small type, and in a very small five volume format.
The value of Dr. Farrar's writings lay in his ability to combine "an honest and robust faith with wide and accurate scholarship." So much so that Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the out-spoken Baptist preacher, said that his study of the life of Christ was "THE work on the subject. Fresh and full. The price [of the 1874 edition] is very high, and yet the sale has been enormous."
Frederic Farrar capitalized upon his success with The Life of Christ by producing an equally as acceptable Life of St. Paul (1879). He also excelled as an historian, writing The Early Days of Christianity (1882), Lives of the Fathers (1889), and several other highly acclaimed works. He also authored commentaries on the First and Second Books of Kings, and a character study entitled Solomon: His Life and Times.
In the course of time Dr. Farrar was called to minister in London's famous Westminster Abbey. Here he preached with such success that crowds flocked to listen to him. His ability to blend historical details with biblical facts made his messages most challenging and provided a sound basis for the application of truth to life.
In 1895 Dr. Farrar was invited to become Dean of Canterbury Cathedral. Here again he endeared himself to a wide following and ministered with great acceptance.
Much more could be said of this Cambridge scholar and evangelical churchman. One biographer wrote of him that he "exerted a vast popular influence upon the religious feeling and culture of the middle classes for fully forty years by virtue of his boundless industry." In considering the value of Dean Farrar's writings, the words of John W. Foster need constantly to be borne in mind. He wrote:
These truths, of course, may be applied to any writer. In the case of the published works of Dr. Farrar, and particularly in connection with his Life of Christ, we have such excellence of coverage, such a beautiful blending of piety and scholarship, such vividness of description, and such a dramatic portrayal of the events as they unfold in the Gospels, that few readers could ever hope to produce a work of such literary and theological excellence. Within the pages of this book we are treated to the best scholarship of the period. This discussion of Christ's life and teaching, person and work, will amply repay the reader for the time he spends reading this book. We are therefore delighted that it has been made available again.
Cyril J. Barber