‘Then Farel, who was working with incredible zeal to promote the gospel, bent all his efforts to keep me in the city. And when he realized that I was determined to study in privacy in some obscure place, and saw that he gained nothing by entreaty, he descended to cursing, and said that God would surely curse my peace if I held back from giving help at a time of such great need. Terrified by his words, and conscious of my own timidity and cowardice, I gave up my journey and attempted to apply whatever gift I had in defense of my faith’
When John Calvin recounted the 1536 event that turned a one night stopover in Geneva into a more permanent arrangement which would alter the course of Christian history, he aptly described the zeal and forthrightness of first great French reformer, Guillaume Farel (1489-1565). Despite sometimes being treated as an historical footnote to Calvin, recent scholarship has demonstrated not only Farel’s instrumentality to keep him at Geneva, but has hinted at the instrumentality of Farel’s ideas upon the thought of the great Genevan.
Farel was a student at the University of Paris and came under the influence of the humanist Jacques Lefevre d’Etaples. He rose through the ranks of reform-minded Catholics and found that as he encountered evangelical ideas, ‘little by little the papacy fell from my heart.’ Convinced of the primary authority of the Scriptures, he was compelled to leave France after the Sorbonne condemned the Lutheran books and ideas that his circle of friends read and spread. Having left France, his ministry took on a peripatetic character: he spent time in Basel with Johannes Oecolampadius (until he called Erasmus a ‘Balaam’ and was forced to leave), Strasbourg with Martin Bucer, Zurich with Huldrych Zwingli, Geneva where he led the cause of reform, and eventually Neuchâtel where he ministered in until his death in 1565.
In 1524 Farel wrote a preface to Lefevre’s translation of the New Testament (L’Epistre Chrestienne Tresutile) and produced a small prayer book (Le Pater Noster et le Credo) designed to replace the Book of Hours. These reflected the practical nature of Farel’s theological outlook: the Scriptures were to be understood by the common people and muttering of superstition replaced with zeal. In 1529 his Summary and Brief Exposition (Summaire et Brieve Declaration) was printed. This was an early doctrinal handbook popular among the French churches and was reprinted at least six times.
His liturgical work, The Manner and Form (La Maniere et fasson), was written prior to 1533 – possibly as early as 1524 while in Montbeliard. It contained a preface, and services for baptism, marriage, the holy supper, public worship, and visitation of the sick.
(in the historical introduction to the translation of his liturgy we discuss the liturgy more in depth, but I thought I would mention his thoughts on expository preaching in this blogpost)
Farel has some interesting directions concerning preaching in the section of his liturgy (La Maniere et fasson) entitled, ‘The Way That We Follow in Preaching When the People Are Assembled to Hear the Word of God’:
“After the prayer, the preacher begins by choosing [lit. taking] some text of Holy Scripture, which he reads clearly (Neh 8:1–3), as our Lord did in Nazareth (Luke 4:16–21). And after the reading he declares word for word, without skipping, bringing to bear the passages of Scripture that are useful for the explanation of the one he expounds, without departing from Holy Scripture (Deut 4:2), so that he does not spoil the pure Word of God with the dung of men (Jer 23:16; 1 Pet 4:11), by faithfully bringing the Word and only speaking the Word of God.”
A few things are noteworthy about Farel’s approach to expository preaching:
- The use of Old and New Testament examples of expounding the Scriptures.
- The slow and methodical exposition of the text (‘word for word, without skipping’).
- The ‘analogy of faith’ method of using Scripture to interpret Scripture (‘bringing to bear the passages of Scripture that are useful for the explanation of the one he expounds’)
- His call to remain close to the text of Scripture (and so avoid spoiling it with ‘the dung of men’) … one wonders what he would make of lengthy sermon illustrations and reflections on pop culture.
- This expository approach he considers ‘faithfully bringing the Word’ – indeed, it seems this closeness to the text of Scripture is what he considers ‘only speaking the Word of God’.
If you think that is interesting (or a little intense), wait until you see what he has to say about the application (‘to exhort and admonish’) of the text to the congregation, which follows directly afterwards.