The paragraphs below are reproduced from Patrick Fairbairn’s treatise, The Typology of Scripture, viewed in Connection with the Whole Series of the Divine Dispensations. 5th ed. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1870), vol. 2, pp. 67–72.


by Patrick Fairbairn

Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life. He that cometh to me shall never hunger ... This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. (John 6:35-50)

Patrick FairbairnIt is obvious that this miraculous supply of food for the desert was in itself a provision for the bodily, and not for the spiritual nature of the Israelites. Hence it is called by our Lord, ‘not the true bread that cometh down from heaven,’ because the life it was given to support was the fleshly one, which terminates in death: ‘Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead.’ And even in this point of view the things connected with it have a use for us, apart altogether from any higher, typical, or prospective reference they might also bear to Gospel things. Lessons may be drawn from the giving and receiving of manna in regard to the interests and transactions of our present temporal life,—properly and justly drawn; only we must not confound these, as is too commonly done, with the lessons of another and higher kind, which it was intended, as part of a preparatory dispensation, to teach regarding the food and nourishment of the soul. For example, the use made of it by the apostle in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (viii. 15), to enforce on the rich a charitable distribution of their means to the needy, so that there might be provided for all a sufficiency of these temporal goods, such as was found by the children of Israel on gathering the manna: this has no respect to any typical bearing in the transaction, as in both cases alike it is the bodily and temporal life alone that is contemplated. In like manner, we should regard it, not in a typical, but only in a common or historical point of view, if we should apply the fact of their being obliged to rise betimes and gather it with their own hands, to teach the duty of a diligent industry in our worldly callings; or the other fact of its breeding worms when unnecessarily hoarded and kept beyond the appointed time, to show the folly of men labouring to heap up possessions which they cannot profitably use, and which must be found only a source of trouble and annoyance. Such applications of the historical details regarding the manna, are in themselves perfectly legitimate and proper, but are quite out of place when put, as they often are, among its typical bearings; as may be seen even by those who do so, when they come to certain of the details,—to the double portion, for example, on the last day of the week, that there might be an unbroken day of rest on the Sabbath; for, if considered, as in the examples given above, with reference merely to what is to be done or enjoyed on earth, the instruction would be false,—the day of rest being the season above all others on which, in a spiritual point of view, men should gather and lay up for their souls. They are here, therefore, under the necessity of mixing up the present with the future, making the six days represent time during which salvation is to be sought, and the seventh eternity, during which it is to be enjoyed. Yet there is an important use of this part also of the arrangement regarding the manna, in reference to the present life, apart altogether from the typical bearing. For when the Lord sent that double portion on the last day of the week, and none on the next, it was as much as to say, that in His providential arrangements for this world, He had given only six days out of the seven for worldly labour, and that if men readily concurred in this plan they should find it to their advantage; they should find, that in the long run they got as much by their six days’ labour as they either needed or could profitably use, and should have, besides, their weekly day of rest of spiritual refreshment and bodily repose. Nor can we regard this lesson of small moment in the eye of Heaven, when we see no fewer than three miracles wrought every week for forty years to enforce it—viz. a double portion of manna on the sixth day, none on the seventh, and the preservation of the portion for the seventh from corrupting when kept beyond the usual time.

When we come, however, to consider the divine gift of manna in its typical aspect, as representative of the higher and better things of the Gospel, we must remember that there are two distinct classes of relations—corresponding, indeed, yet still distinct, since the one has immediate respect only to the seen and the temporal, and the other to the unseen and the eternal. In both cases alike there is a redeemed people, travelling through a wilderness to the inheritance promised to them, and prepared for them, and receiving as they proceed the peculiar provision they require for the support of life, from the immediate hand of God. But in the one case it is the descendants of Abraham according to the flesh, redeemed from the outward bondage and oppression of Egypt, at the most from bodily death; in the other, it is the spiritual members of an elect Church redeemed from the curse and condemnation of sin: in the one, the literal wilderness of Arabia, lying between Egypt and Palestine; in the other, the figurative wilderness of a present world: in the one, manna; in the other, Christ. That we are warranted to connect the two together in this manner, and to see the one, as it were, in the other, is not simply to be inferred from some occasional passages of Scripture, but is rather to be grounded on the general nature of the Old Testament dispensation, as intended to prepare the way, by means of its visible and earthly relations, for the spiritual and divine realities of the Gospel. Whatever is implied in this general connection, however, is in the case of the manna not obscurely intimated by our Lord in the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, where He represents Himself, with evident reference to it, as ‘the bread which cometh down from heaven;’ and is clearly taken for granted by the Apostle Paul, when he calls it ‘the spiritual meat,’ of which the Israelites did all eat. [1 Cor. x. 3.] Not as if, in eating that, they of necessity found nourishment to their souls; but such meat being God’s special provision for a redeemed people, had an ordained connection with the mysteries of God’s kingdom, and, as such, contained a pledge that He who consulted so graciously for the life of the body, would prove Himself equally ready to administer to the necessities of the soul, as He did in a measure even then, and does now more fully in Christ. The following may be presented as the chief points of instruction which in this respect are conveyed by the history of the manna:—

(1.) It was given in consideration of a great and urgent necessity. A like necessity lies at the foundation of God’s gift of His Son to the world: it was not possible in the nature of things for any other resource to be found; and the actual bestowment of the gift was delayed till the fullest demonstration had been given in the history of the Church and the world that such a provision was indispensable.

(2.) The manna was peculiarly the gift of God, coming freely and directly from His hand. It fell by night with the dew, [Num. xi. 9] which is itself the gift of heaven, sent to fertilize the earth, and enable it to yield increase for the food of man and beast. But in the wilderness, where, as there is no sowing, there can be no increase, if bread still comes with the dew, it must be, in a sense quite peculiar, the produce of heaven—hence called ‘the corn,’ or ‘bread of heaven.’ [Ps. lxxviii. 24, cv. 40.] How striking a representation in this respect of Christ, who, both as to His person and to the purchased blessing of His redemption, is always presented to our view as the free gift and offer of divine love!

(3.) But plentiful as well as free; the whole fulness of the Godhead is in Jesus, so that all may receive as their necessities require: no one needs to grudge his neighbour’s portion, but all rather may rejoice together in the ample beneficence of Heaven. So it was also with the manna; for when distribution was made, there was enough for all, and even he who had gathered least had no lack.

(4.) Then, falling as it did round about the camp, it was near enough to be within the reach of all: if any should perish for want, it could be from no outward necessity or hardship, for the means of supply were brought almost to their very hand. Nor is it otherwise in regard to Christ, who, in the Gospel of His grace, is laid, in a manner, at the door of every sinner: the word is nigh him; and if he should still perish, he must be without excuse,—he perishes in sight of the bread of life.

(5.) The supply of manna came daily, and faith had to be exercised on the providence of God, that each day would bring its appointed provision; if they attempted to hoard for the morrow, their store became a mass of corruption. In like manner must the child of God pray for his soul every morning as it dawns, ‘Give me this day my daily bread.’ He can lay up no stock of grace which is to save him from the necessity of constantly repairing to the treasury of Christ; and if he begins to live upon former experiences, or to feel as if he already stood so high in the life of God, that, like Peter, he can of himself confidently reckon on his superiority to temptation, his very mercies become fraught with trouble, and he is the worse rather than the better for the fulness imparted to him. His soul can be in health and prosperity only while he is every day ‘living by the faith of the Son of God, who loved him, and gave Himself for him.’

(6.) Finally, as the manna had to be gathered in the morning of each day, and a double portion provided on the sixth day, that the seventh might be hallowed as a day of sacred rest; so Christ and the things of His salvation must be sought with diligence and regularity, but only in the appointed way, and through the divinely-provided channels. There must be no neglect of seasonable opportunities on the one hand, nor, on the other, any overvaluing of one ordinance to the neglect of another. We cannot prosper in our course, unless it is pursued as God Himself authorizes and appoints.

There is nothing uncertain or fanciful in such analogies; for they have not only the correspondence between Israel’s temporal and the Church’s spiritual condition to rest upon, but the character also of an unchangeable God. His principles of dealing with His Church are the same for all ages. When transacting now with His people directly for the support of the spiritual life, He must substantially re-enact what He did of old, when transacting with them directly for the support of their bodily life. And as even then there was an under-current of spiritual meaning and instruction running through all that was done, so the faith of the Christian now has a most legitimate and profitable exercise, when it learns from that memorable transaction in the desert the fulness of its privilege, and the extent of its obligations in regard to the higher provision presented to it in the Gospel.

A Review Article about Fairbairn’s Typology

The following review article is from the Westminster Theological Journal 15/2 (May 53), p. 187. It refers to the reprint of Fairbairn’s work published by Zondervan in 1952.

To serious students of the Scripture Fairbairn’s Typology has long been a standard work. For a sane, sober, and profound exposition of the relation that subsists between the Old and the New Dispensations this book has remained unsurpassed since its appearance nearly a century ago. It is one of those really great works that have stood the test of time and can be called essential in the ministerial library. Fairbairn was one of the giants of the Free Church of Scotland who, along with William Cunningham, George Smeaton, James Buchanan and other scholars, produced a quantity and quality of Reformed literature, that has never been duplicated in such a short space of time in one country. He himself was principal of the Free Church College in Glasgow, after having served three charges as pastor.

This work is really divided into two volumes, which in the present reprint have been bound together. The print has been enlarged somewhat over the older editions, which eases the strain on the reader’s eyes, especially in the very valuable appendices. The entire work is divided into three ‘books’ of rather unequal length. The second volume is devoted to the third ‘book’ and in 470 pages discusses the types found under the Mosaic dispensation. Fairbairn treats first the typical significance of the ‘historical transactions’ such as the bondage in Egypt, the deliverer Moses, the deliverance itself, and the wilderness wandering. Then the bulk of the volume is given over to a detailed exposition of the typical symbolism of the law, the tabernacle, and the sacrifices. For the busy minister who is looking for a clear, thorough, and satisfying presentation of the Levitical sacrifices, this section is well worth the price of the whole book. And for the student who is wrestling with the critical problems involved in the interpretation of the Old Testament, the discussion beginning on page 278 will set the problem forth succinctly and with the reverent and scholarly replies. It is significant that a reviewer in the pages of this Journal recently referred his readers to Fairbairn’s Typology in reply to the claims of a modern theological work that the Levitical sacrifices had efficacy only for unwitting or ceremonial sins (cf. the issue for May 1952, p. 172).

The first volume sets forth the principles of Scripture typology and their application to the primeval and patriarchal dispensations. It is the first part of this section that is especially important, as here we find a quick rebuff to the facile solution that sees no ‘type’ except that which is specifically mentioned in the New Testament. Fairbairn defends himself by appealing to the sister study of prophecy, where, says he, ‘a part only ... of the prophecies which refer to Christ and His kingdom have been specially noticed and interpreted by the pen of inspiration’ in the New Testament (p. 21). Why then demand a special notice of each type? On the contrary, the types that are noted are singled out ‘simply as examples ... taken from a vast storehouse, where many more were to be found’ (p. 22). On the other hand, he takes issue with those who discover types everywhere, but only of a ‘superficial and outward kind’ (p. 20).

The minister and Bible student who makes a careful study of this book cannot help but have his knowledge of the Scriptures immeasurably increased. The appendices, too, will no doubt provoke much interest, especially the one entitled, ‘Does the Original Relation of the Seed of Abraham to the Land of Canaan Afford any Ground for Expecting their Final Return to it?’ (Vol. I, pp. 415 ff.). It is to be regretted that this work goes no farther than the early historical and legal books and does not take up the prophets. We may hope that a good response to this reprint will encourage the republication of Fairbairn’s other great work on Prophecy.

Joseph C. Holbrook, Jr.

Some Recent Reprints of Fairbairn’s Works

Patrick Fairbairn, The Typology of Scripture, viewed in Connection with the Whole Series of the Divine Dispensations. 5th ed. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1870). This work, originally printed in two volumes, has been reprinted several times in the 20th century by American publishers, usually in a single volume and under the shortened title The Typology of Scripture. It was reprinted by Funk & Wagnalls Co. in 1900; Zondervan in 1952; Baker Book House in 1975; and, most recently, by Kregel Publications in 2000. The Kregel reprint is available in hardcover (ISBN: 0825426316) and paperback (ISBN: 082542643X) editions.

Patrick Fairbairn, Prophecy Viewed in Respect to its Distinctive Nature, its Special Function, and its Proper Interpretation. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1856. Second edition, 1864. Reprinted as The Interpretation of Prophecy by Banner of Truth Trust in 1964 and in 1996. Hardcover. ISBN: 0851516548.