« PreviousContinue »
VIEWED IN RESPECT TO
ITS DISTINCTIVE NATURE, ITS SPECIAL
PATRICK FAIRBAIRN, D.D.,
PRINCIPAL OF THE FREE CHURCH COLLEGE, GLASGOW ;
PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION.
ONE of the main considerations which induced me, a few years ago, to prepare and issue the following treatise on Prophecy, arose from the effect which was being produced by the general tendency of theological discussion on the evidential value of prophecy, as that was wont to be presented. The same reason exists still, if not in increased, at least in undiminished force; and I therefore substantially repeat what I then stated on this preliminary point. The whole of that department of theology, I remarked, which treats of the evidences of revealed religion, has been peculiarly affected by the spirit of the age; and a mode of treatment is now required for the several topics it embraces, which materially differs from what was usually adopted and deemed sufficient so lately as the earlier part of the present century. Such is more particularly the case in respect to the subject of prophecy: The claim of the Bible to divine authority, on the ground of its predictions, has now to be maintained from a more internal position than formerly; since objections are laid by the opponents or corrupters of the truth against the argument from prophecy, less on the ground of an alleged weakness in the argument itself, abstractedly considered, than by attempting to eliminate the predictive element from Scripture, in so far as it can be said to carry with it any argumentative value. Adopt their mode of contemplating the prophetical writings, and you
no longer possess the materials necessary for constructing an argument that will serve the cause of Christianity. Contemporaneously, too, with this relative change on the part of the impugners of a supernatural revelation, modes of interpretation, and theories of providential change founded on them, have been gaining currency among many students of prophetical Scripture, which, if valid, would deprive the argument from prophecy of some of its most important defences. The immediate result of the two tendencies combined has been to involve the subject of prophecy in a medley of confusion, and in great measure to antiquate, even for argumentative purposes, the works which have been framed with an express view to the exhibition of the evidence deducible from it. In a higher respect, however, this state of things is scarcely to be regretted; since it necessarily forces on the advocates of revelation a more fundamental investigation of the whole subject, and cannot fail ultimately to lead to the establishment of more correct views respecting the proper function and essential characteristics of prophecy. It is here, more especially, that our theological literature in this department needs fresh consideration and admits of improvement.
Of the two disturbing elements referred to in this statement, that to my mind is by much the most serious and embarrassing, which arises from the conflicting views, and, one may say, the antagonistic schools of interpretation, which have come to prevail among sincere and earnest students themselves of the prophetic word. Were there but an intelligent understanding and general concurrence among them respecting the great principles applicable to the subject, less concern might be felt for the hostile criticism of open or disguised opponents, and some reasonable prospect might be entertained of their differences on subordinate points giving way. It is on this account, and as expressive of this conviction, that so large a portion of the ensuing volume has been devoted to the investigation of principles ; since no otherwise than by a correct knowledge of these, gathered from a full and careful comparison of Scripture, can a satisfactory foundation be laid, or a general agreement be arrived at by believing theologians as to the right use and interpretation of prophecy. It has been my aim, however, in that part of the volume, which treats of what is more fundamental, to relieve the discussion by introducing as many illustrations as possible of particular prophecies, so as, while chiefly occupied in laying the foundation, to make some progress also in raising the superstructure. In the latter half, which has for its specific object fulfilments of prophecy, prospective as well as accomplished, I have endeavoured to conduct the inquiry strictly with a view to the application of the principles established in the earlier partgoing as far as I felt these could safely carry me, but no farther. It is possible, that some who concur with me in regard to the principles of the subject, may not always go along with me in their specific application; and many, doubtless, will be disposed to complain that the applications to specific objects and events in the future are not by any means so numerous and circumstantial as they conceive they should have been. All I can say is, “I have done what I could;" and before much fault is found on the latter score, it might be well to consider seriously the position into which the subject of prophecy has been brought by that more pretentious and historical style of interpretation which is throughout opposed in this volume as inconsistent with the proper function and character of prophecy. It is impossible for any sober-minded and thoughtful Christian to reflect without grief, if he has intelligence enough to know, how largely with the advocates of that other style the spirit of soothsaying has of