“But it was our Lord who first clearly announced the coming retribution, and described it as one that was to bring along with it the most sweeping desolation, and as so near at hand, that the existing generation was to see it accomplished. “
(On Matthew 16:27-28 and Luke 17 as Referring to Display of Power in Apostolic Era)
“There are not wanting other passages of a similar kind in our Lord’s discourses; for example, Matt. xvi. 28, ” Verily I say unto you. There be some standing here who shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in His kingdom ” — which, by no fair and natural exposition can be referred primarily to events and times altogether subsequent to the apostolic age; it must indicate what some of those then present lived to witness, viz., to the manifestation of Christ’s divine power after His ascension, when introducing the new dispensation, and formally removing the old.. The wonders of Pentecost were exhibited as the evidence of Christ’s exaltation, and the fruit of His power. The miraculous healing of the poor cripple at the temple-gate, and the no less miraculous judgment on Ananias and Sapphira in the church, were alike viewed as the results of Christ’s outstretched hand; they happened because He (the Holy One whom the Father had anointed, chap. iv. 27-30) was present with the power of His Spirit to do signs and wonders. When the apostles bore to other lands the gospel of salvation, and planted Christian churches, Christ Himself was declared to have come and preached peace by them (Eph. ii. 17). On Him as a present living Saviour, they laid the foundation of a living church (1 Cor. iii. 10, 11). In the Book of Revelation, more especially, where the final coming is most conspicuously displayed, provisional and invisible comings are also most distinctly noticed. ” Remember from whence thou art fallen,” is the charge
to the church of Ephesus, ” and repent and do the first works or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove the candlestick out of its place.” So also to others, “Repent, or else I will come unto thee quickly;” ” If thou shalt not watch, I
will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.” Nay, he even speaks of himself to the church of Laodicea as standing at the door and knocking. In the subsequent parts of the Book, it is he who, as a ” mighty angel,” is represented (chap. x.) as coming down from heaven, and setting his feet upon the sea and dry land, as going presently to take permanent possession of both; and who again during the currency of the sixth vial, and in respect to the things then in progress, proclaims, “Behold I come as a thief; blessed is he that watcheth and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame” (chap. xvi. 15).” (Prophecy viewed in respect to its distinctive nature, its special function, p. 453-455)
(On The Division of Matthew 24)
“This is the only thing that can be regarded as properly falling within the terms of the description; and what, in effect, was it but the first movements of the stone in Daniel’s vision, proceeding to displace the things opposed to it, and to take possession of the field? “The day of the Son of Man,” in Luke xvii. 24, must also be viewed as having its primary reference to the same period—since if referred to the final advent, the practical exhortations connected with it would not be applicable. And in Matt, xxiv., it is impossible altogether to separate between the immediate and the final coming. To a certain extent, the two are intermingled together, and the one is contemplated as the type and presage of the other.” (Prophecy viewed in respect to its distinctive nature, its special function, p. 454)
(On Matthew 24:34)
“It has been maintained by some that… our Lord identified generation with the Jewish race…. But that is a very forced explanation; and not a single example can be produced of an entirely similar use of the word. Whatever difficulties may hang around the interpretation of that part of Christ’s discourse, it is impossible to understand by “the generation that was not to pass away” anything but the existing race of men living at the time when the word was spoken.” (in loc)
(On The Re-establishment of Israel)
“As for the view of Hofmann, whom Ebrard, and some British writers, follow, that the woman in chap. xii. is simply the Jewish Church, and her see that was to be driven into the wilderness, the Jewish people in their unbelieving and scattered condition, it is so palpably opposed to the whole spirit of the Book, and the general object of its prophetic revelations, that it needs no special consideration.
It thus appears, that in the teaching of our Lord and his apostles, there is nothing to facoour either the Jewish, or the semi-Jewish view of the prophetical future. Amid much incidentally bearing on the subject of Jewish prospects, there is still no distinct announcement of the national restoration and settlement of the Jewish people in Canaan, or of the re-institution of their temple-worship. There is nothing whatever said to indicate, that such events may be expected in the history of the Christian cChurch, or that any thing depends on them for the advancement and welfare of Christ’s cause in the world.” (p. 253)
“The local temple which formed the centre of the old religion with its holy persons, and places, and seasons, bespoke in its very nature imperfections, since it implied with respect to other persons, and places and seasons, a relative commonness or pollution: so that the prophets themselves anticipated a time when it would be supplanted by something higher and better (Jer. 1:7). The some kind of imperfection is separably connected with the idea of an elect people and a holy land (sic) …” (1856, 1964, London and Edinburgh, p. 258, 259.)
“the feeling, that the fundamental teaching of the New Testament was of the nature now described, and ought mainly to be regarded, was what led the Fathers with one voice (not excepting such as held the personal, millennial reign of Christ in Jerusalem), and all Christians writers, down to the seventeenth century, to reject as chimerical, the Jewish expectations both of a territorial restoration and of a revived Judaism.” (p. 253)
(On Daniel’s Iron Beast)
“The arms of the republic,” says Gibbon, as if writing the interpretation of this part of the vision, “sometimes vanquished in battle, always victorious in war, advanced with rapid strides to the Euphrates, the Danube, the Rhine, and the ocean ; and the images of gold and sliver or brass, that might serve to represent the nations and their kings, were successively broken by the iron monarchy of Rome.” (p. 295)
“This greater empire, the greatest of all in its aspirations after worldly dominion, and the most extensive and lasting in its ascendency, the Roman, is most aptly represented by a nameless monster, “dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly, devouring and breaking in pieces, and stamping the residue with its feet, and diverse from all the beasts that were before it. This was, unquestionably, the characteristic of the Roman power in the days of its vigor and conquest.”
(On the heavenly temple and city)
“During the time that the temple and Jerusalem stood, and formed the centre of the divine kingdom and worship, the predictions, which were of the nature of promises, received a measure of fulfilment in the case of the true covenantal people to whom alone they properly referred. But from the moment that Christ was glorified, as the temple and Jerusalem lost their original character — as the Jerusalem and the temple, which thenceforth constituted the real habitation of God and the seat of worship, rose heavenwards with its Divine Head (Gal. iv. 26, Rev. xxi. 2), it is in connection with that higher region that we are to look fro what yet remains to be fulfilled of the predictions. So long as God’s dwelling-place needed to have an outward and local position upon earth, it continued, according to the word of promise, to have it. He did, as he said, encamp round about it, drew towards it from every quarter his sincere and faithful worshippers, and rendered it a fountain of holiness and peace to the children of the covenant. And when Christ personally appeared, and brought in redemption, not for the sins of Israel alone, but for those of the whole world, while he did not take from his people a centre-place of meeting and fellowship with God, he yet shifted its position ; he raised it from earth to heaven ; and instead of saying, “You shall find me here,” or “Go to meet me there,” he said, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world, and to the uttermost bounds of the earth.” So that Zion, considered in its higher and moral sense, as the seat of the divine government, is always a holy mountain, and Jerusalem, viewed as the centre of true worship and hallowed influences, abides still, and in higher perfection than before. Beyond the reach of violence or corruption, it cannot be removed or pluckt up forever ; and the word stands fast, which assured the covenant-people of a perpetual residence of God in the midst of them, a home of safety and a fountain of blessing.” (pp. 279,280)
“the deliverance accomplished from the yoke of Babylon formed a fitting stepping-stone to the main subject of the prophecy – the revelation of God in the person and work in the Son. The certainty of the one – a certainty soon to be realized – was a pledge of the ultimate certainty of the other ; and the character also of the former, as a singular and unexpected manifestation of the Lord’s power to deliver his people and lay their enemies in the dust, was a prefiguration of what was to be accomplished once for all in the salvation to be wrought out by Jesus Christ. There are few portions of Old Testament prophecy, which altogether resemble the one we have been considering. Perhaps that which approaches nearest to it, in the mode of combining type with prophecy, is the thirty-fourth chapter of Isaiah, which is not a direct and simple delineation of the judgments that were destined to alight upon Idumea, but rather an ideal representation of the judgments preparing to alight on the enemies generally of God’s people, founded upon the approaching desolations of Edom, which it contemplates as the type of the destruction which awaits all the adversaries.” (Typology, pp. 125-126)
The Prophecies Concerning the Destruction of Jerusalem
We have hitherto confined our attention to the prophecies of the Old Testament, and to that portion of these which had scarcely, or not at all, entered on their fulfilment at the close of the Babylonish captivity ; because it is in regard to such, that the conditions formerly specified as necessary to be borne in mind for handling successfully the argument from prophecy, most distinctly and obviously hold. It is only from the difficulty of rendering manifest, to a distrustful and doubting mind, the existence of those conditions in the case of some other prophecies, of some, especially in the writings of Daniel, where the particulars are most full, and the fulfilmetn in various parts the most striking, that we omit them in a consideration of the apologetic use of prophecy. Their use will be found rather in directing the views, and establishing the faith of those who already believe in the Divine authority and inspiration of Scripture, than in overcoming the scruples of such as may still be lingering in the regions of unbelief. And from the close connection in form, partly also in substance, between the prophecies of Daniel, and the Revelation of St. John, it is scarcely possible to enter on a particular examination of the one, without going first into a pretty full consideration of the other.
There is no reason, however, why the argument from prophecy should be altogether conducted with a reference to the predictions of the Old Testament. For, while New Testament Scripture, in perfect accordance with the dispensation to which it belongs, deals much less in specific announcements respecting the future, than the Old; it is yet by no means absolutely devoid of such. There is one, in particular, which has also a point of contact with some of the Old Testament prophecies, and is but a detailed exhibition of what they more generally indicate — namely, our Lord’s prediction regarding the destruction of Jerusalem. The prophecies of Isaiah (chap. vi.), and Daniel (chap. ix), already referred to, gave no doubt indication of troubles and desolations, which the spirit of apostacy was yet to bring upon Judah and Jerusalem, even after the people had regained a considerable degree of power and prosperity, nay, after the Messiah himself had come. Various prophecies also in Zechariah, especially those in chap. v., xii., xiii., evidently pointed in the same direction ; in them the promise of Messiah and the prospect of good that was to be the characteristic of His times, was coupled with the mention of fearful calamities and floods of tribulation on account of sin. But it was our Lord who first clearly announced the coming retribution, and described it as one that was to bring along with it the most sweeping desolation, and as so near at hand, that the existing generation was to see it accomplished. The predictions of Christ, to this effect, were, no doubt, uttered not very long before the event, and it has sometimes been surmised, that the publication of the Gospels, which contain the prophecy, may have been subsequent to the occurrence of the event. But the surmise is so destitute of all probability, that no candid and serious adversary can think of urging it. The very form of the prediction, in its most specific announcement, is against the supposition ; since it is so much occupied with directions and warnings to the disciples how to conduct themselves in anticipation of the event ; while the testimony of antiquity is quite uniform as to the priority of the prophecy. Uttered, then, at the time it purports to have been, that is, not less than forty years before the calamities it depicts — at a time when, in the political horizon, there was no appearance of any impending storm, and on simply natural grounds, there was no reason to apprehend extreme measures of any kind, it can be ascribed to nothing but Divine foresight on the part of Christ, that He should have so clearly descried, not only the approaching danger, but the overwhelming nature of the catastrophe in which it was to terminate : — first, a strait siege of the city, then its surrender into the hands of the enemy, followed by its merciless destruction — its very temple laid in ruins, and its people scattered abroad, trodden down by the Gentiles ; while, on the other hand, the gospel of His salvation, which they had despised and rejected, should spread far and wide, and everywhere take root in the earth (Matt. xxiv. 2, 15, 21, Luke xxi. 6, 20-24). To foresee such results — results in many respects opposed to the intentions, and the general policy of the Romans, who were the chief instruments in effecting it — and with such a tone of assurance announce them so long beforehand, was not to speak in the manner of men ; and no one, who looks calmly into the circumstances, can ever find an explanation that will be satisfactory to his own mind, by the help merely of some unusual degree of shrewdness on the part of Jesus, or of a certain fortuitous combination of circumstances in Providence.
We refrain from entering farther into the details of the subject, which would carry us beside our present purpose. In another connection, the circumstances of Jerusalem’s destruction will come again to be noticed in a subsequent chapter. And though the argument from New Testament prophecy admits of bring strengthened by the consideration of what is written Antichrist, and the great apostacy, yet we refrain also from taking up this topic in the present connection. The diversities of opinionnow current even among Protestant and Evangelical divines on the precise import of the predictions bearing on that subject, have in great measure destroyed its apologetic value, and require for it in a work like the present, a separate treatment. Meanwhile, we trust, there is enough in the line of argument indicated, to show, that a most important and conclusive branch of evidence is yielded by prophecy in support of the great facts and doctrines of the Bible. We must say, however, in conclusion, that for a just appreciation of this evidence, and the capacity either of using or profiting by it aright, the careful study of the prophetic Scriptures on sound principles of interpretation, is indispensable. Here also it is the patient and continued search, to which the choicest treasures are revealed. Could we only persuade those who have places themselves in an antagonistic position, and contemplate the subject from a distance, to take up in a spirit of candid and earnest inquiry, so much as one or two portions of the prophetical Scriptures, and consider them attentively on every side, we would expect more from the exervise, than from all argumentations of a more general kind ; for though the circle embraced might be of limited extent, yet the deeper and more delicate lines of agreement it contains with the realities of the gospel, would be perceived, as well as those which are of a more palpable description. An din regard to those who would pursue the study, not for conviction, but for farther enlightenment in the knowledge, and a firmer establishment in the faith of the gospel, resort should be had, less to works devoted to an exposition of the argument from prophecy, than to the word of prophecy itself, and its correct interpretation. They should make themselves conversant more with exegetical, than with apologetical sources. And in proportion as their acquaintance with the divine word becomes more discriminating and comprehensive, they will also become more thoroughly satisfied respecting the coherence of its several parts, and be more sensible of the numberless points of coincidence that exist between its predictions of things to come and the subsequent events and issues of Providence.” (pp. 237-240)
WHAT OTHERS HAVE SAID
The second son of a Berwickshire farmer, Fairbairn was born at Hallyburton on 28 January 1805. He studied at Edinburgh University from 1818 to 1826, moving to Orkney to work as a tutor. During this time he became a German and Hebrew scholar, and was called to be the first minister of the new “Extension” Church in Bridgeton before moving to Salton, East Lothian.
The Disruption saw him take a lead in organising the Free Church Presbytery of Haddington, while retaining the friendship of co-presbyters who opposed him in ecclesiastical policy. In 1853 he was appointed to the chair of theology in Aberdeen, and in 1856 he became principal at the Free Church College in Glasgow.
His published work stretched from his 1845 “Typology of Scripture” to his posthumous “Pastoral Theology”. His work was regarded as neither brilliant nor original, but patient and careful. He died on 6 August 1874.
PATRICK FAIRBAIRN was the second son of a Berwickshire farmer. He was born at Hallyburton, in the parish of Greenlaw, on the 28th of January, 1805, and in due time was sent to the parish school to be prepared for the University. Like many another Scotch boy, he began his college career at a very early age; he matriculated in Edinburgh in November, 1818, before he had seen his fourteenth birthday. The lad was too young to profit much by university lectures, nor were the professors, in his college days, men likely to kindle the sacred fire in the breasts of students of any age. Christopher North, it is true, was delivering brilliant orations in the moral philosophy class-room, and Leslie was sustaining the scientific reputation of the University, but their colleagues were respectable nobodies. Young Fairbairn attended the classes, paid the fees, did his allotted tasks, and taught himself. The lad’s real teacher, a man called Hay, lived in the quiet village of Gordon, kept a small shop, collected a library of choice books in literature and philosophy, and poured out his information to young men who came to his little parlour to enjoy his conversation. The Divinity Hall was even duller than the Arts Faculty. Good Dr. Brunton had kindly words and kindlier deeds for the young men who came to his classes, but he did not teach them much Hebrew, and exegesis was then a thing unknown.
Patrick Fairbairn left the university in 1826, and next year went to Orkney to be tutor in the household of Captain Balfour, through whose interest he was appointed by the Crown to the living of North Ronaldshay in 1830. When Fairbairn entered on his charge many of his parishioners were “wreckers,” and all of them were addicted to strange semi-barbarous practices. The improvement he effected was so marked that it attracted attention. It was during his six years’ residence in the most northern of the Orkney Islands that he began the serious studies of his life. He became a good German and Hebrew scholar, and mastered the principles of biblical study which afterwards appeared in his published writings. From North Ronaldshay he was called to be the first minister of the new “Extension” Church of Bridgeton in Glasgow. After three years’ service there he was translated to Salton, in East Lothian, where he made diligent use of the manse library, the gift of Gilbert Burnet, William III.’s Bishop of Salisbury.
The Disruption took place while Mr. Fairbairn was minister at Salton. He had always taken the evangelical side in the unhappy controversy which divided the Church of Scotland, and, when the time came, he had no hesitation in leaving his church and manse to join the Free Church. He took a leading part in organizing the Free Church Presbytery of Haddington, but it was characteristic of the man that he retained the private friendship of Dr. Cook and his other co-presbyters who had taken the opposite side in ecclesiastical policy.
He began his career as a teacher of theology in the winter of 1847-8, when he delivered a course of lectures in the English Presbyterian College, and in 1853 he was appointed by the General Assembly to the Chair of Theology in Aberdeen. When the Free Church College was founded in Glasgow in 1856 Professor Fairbairn became Principal and Professor of Church History and Exegesis there, and presided over the institution till his death, on August 6th, 1874.
Principal Fairbairn was modest and retiring in his habits and feelings, and shunned anything like display. He asked his friends not to allow his biography to be written, and destroyed letters and other documents which might have led them to a disregard of his wish. He did not take a very active part in Church courts, but was invariably listened to with respect when he felt it his duty to speak, and his Church showed its appreciation of his work by raising him to its Moderator’s Chair in 1864. Nor was he what might be called a prominent citizen, and yet few Glasgow men were more universally esteemed, and he took part in all that concerned the moral and religious welfare of the city. The Examination Board of the Free Church, which tests the acquirements of students at the beginning and at the end of the theological course of study, a scheme afterwards adopted by the United Presbyterian and Established Churches of Scotland, owes its existence mainly to Dr. Fairbairn. His wise oversight contributed not a little to the success of the Glasgow Theological Hall. He spent much time and work in raising the necessary subscriptions, in selecting site, plan of building, and equipment of the new college. The arrangement of studies, the distribution of work, and the encouragement of diligence among the students by a system of bursaries gained by examination, were all planned and carried out by him.
He bestowed great pains on the College Library, and was zealous to keep out what he called “rubbish.” His own collection of books has now been added, and has materially enhanced the value of the library. He was fond of books, and liked to have them well bound – “A good book deserves a good dress,” was one of his maxims. He was a hard and systematic student, working at his desk almost every evening till eleven o’clock up to the very day of his death; but he had a noted aversion, which he often expressed, to the professional or specialist student of theology. He preached frequently, always in summer and often during the session, regarding it as a most important thing to be in continual contact with the practical work of the ministry.
He began his literary work when at Salton by translations from the German. In 1845 he published his “Typology of Scripture,” a work which reached a fifth edition. It was followed by “Ezekiel and the Book of his Prophecy” (1851); “Jonah” (1852); “Prophecy viewed in its Distinctive Nature, its Special Functions, and Proper Interpretation” (1856); a “Hermeneutical Manual” (1858); “The Revelation of Law in Scripture” (1868); “The Pastoral Epistles” (1874); and “Pastoral Theology,” which appeared posthumously, edited by the Rev. James Dodds of Dunbar. Perhaps his most important bit of work was editing and contributing to Blackie’s “Imperial Bible Dictionary,” which was finished in 1866. Along with Dr. Eadie and Dr. Weir he represented Glasgow scholarship from the first on the Committees for the Revision of the English Bible. It is somewhat difficult to estimate the value of the theological work of Dr. Fairbairn. The best part of it was undoubtedly the stimulus he gave to the students who came under his influence. He would probably have desired to be judged by his “Typology,” which was one of the most important theological works of its day. It appeared at a time when Scotland was singularly barren in theological scholarship, and gained for its author a great reputation, not only in his own country but also in England and America. But it would be idle to imagine that either the ideas or the method of the book can stand the test of modern theological and exegetical standards. Dr. Fairbairn’s work was neither brilliant nor original: it was patient and careful. His direct theological influence can never extend farther than his own generation; but his indirect influence will go far beyond his own time, for he was one of those who teach others to go beyond their teachers.
What do YOU think ?