PATRICK FAIRBAIRN was born at Hallyburton, in the parish of Greenlaw, Berwickshire, on the 28th January 1805. He was the second son of a family of five children. The eldest of the family, a brother, predeceased him; the three younger members, two brothers and a sister, still survive. His father, a respectable farmer, was able to give all his children a good education, and to educate two of them for the Christian ministry, namely, the subject of this sketch, and John, the third of the family, now minister of the Free Church at Greenlaw.
Patrick, considered from his earliest years a highly promising boy, was sent to various schools in the district with a view to his being prepared for the University. None of these schools were of a superior kind; yet he profited to such an extent by the tuition they furnished, that he proceeded to the University of Edinburgh in November 1818, before he had completed his fourteenth year. Like many Scottish youths of that period, he commenced his college studies much too early, and had in subsequent years to work doubly hard in order to make up for the deficiencies of his preliminary education. He attended the classes of Professors Pillans, Dunbar, Wilson, Wallace, Dr. Ritchie, and Sir John Leslie. He was noted as a diligent and well-conducted student; but he seems to have made no very brilliant or distinguished figure in any leading branch of academic study. His mind was of that order which comes to maturity rather slowly; and he aimed at solid progress rather than showy distinction.
Early in his college career he resolved to study for the Christian ministry. In this matter he was greatly influenced by his mother, who was a woman of fervent piety and great Christian worth. All her children owed much to her prudent and prayerful training; but Patrick seems to have been specially benefited by her influence and example. On the occasion of her death in 1861, her distinguished son thus wrote of her: ‘I doubt if I should ever have thought of giving myself to the ministry, had it not been for the early bent my mind received from her spirit and instructions. While I live I cannot but cherish her memory with affection and regard; and I shall rest in the hope of meeting her in another and better state of existence.’
The young student never prized highly the advantages presented by the classes at the University as they were conducted in his time. With one or two exceptions, the professors in the Arts Course were not successful teachers; and few students ever thought of taking a degree. Wilson was a brilliant lecturer, but he never attempted any systematic instruction in Moral Philosophy. Wallace and Leslie were profound mathematicians, but failed in carrying their students along with them in the demonstrations of the class-room. Patrick Fairbairn never ceased to lament the imperfect training he received at college. The great improvements that have of late been effected in the Edinburgh University system were not even projected in his early academic days.
When he entered the Divinity Hall, he found matters worse than they were in the Faculty of Arts. Dr. William Ritchie, an old and infirm man, who had never been very efficient, was Professor of Systematic Divinity; Dr. Brunton was Professor of Hebrew; and Dr. Meiklejohn of Church History. There was nothing in the Hall to stimulate or reward the exertions of the students. Dulness and routine prevailed in all the classes; there was in none of them much evangelical life or theological enthusiasm. Several able young men were fellow-students with Patrick Fairbairn, and like him afterwards made a distinguished figure in the Church; but they owed little of their learning to the instructions of the theological professors. It was not till Dr. Chalmers had been appointed to the Chair of Systematic Theology, and Dr. Welsh to the Chair of Church History, that the Edinburgh Divinity Hall acquired a character worthy of the famous University to which it belongs.
It must here be mentioned that the young Berwickshire student received much assistance in the course of his philosophical studies from a Mr. Hay, a small merchant in the quiet little town of Gordon, near Greenlaw. This Mr. Hay belonged to a class of men who were, perhaps, once more numerous in Scotland than they are now,—men who, though moving in a humble station, and possessed of limited means, yet contrived to cultivate literature and philosophy in a remarkable manner, and to gather all sorts of information from such miscellaneous collections of books as they were able to purchase or borrow. This Gordon philosopher delighted to impart to superior young men the various knowledge he had accumulated, and to kindle in their minds that genuine love of moral and metaphysical speculation with which he was himself inspired.
During a considerable period of his University career, Mr. Fairbairn attended the ministry of Dr. Robert Gordon, then held in the highest repute as a powerful evangelical preacher. The high intellect of Dr. Gordon, joined to his solemn and impressive pulpit oratory, peculiarly attracted the better class of theological students, and indeed many leading professional men in Edinburgh. His influence in recommending the gospel to the more cultivated classes of society was very great; and down to the close of his life he was, as a highly intellectual yet truly spiritual preacher, almost unrivalled. It is well known that the late Principal Cunningham was profoundly influenced in early life by one of Dr. Gordon’s printed sermons, and that ever afterwards he regarded him with special affection. Patrick Fairbairn must also be set down as one of those young men of high promise who received great benefit, at a critical period of life, from Dr. Gordon’s powerful ministrations. There was another excellent Edinburgh minister to whom the youthful student was introduced in his college days, and to whom he became united by the ties of the closest friendship. This was the late Dr. James Henderson of Free St. Enoch’s Church, Glasgow, who in the early part of his life was minister of Stockbridge Chapel of Ease, Edinburgh. After living on terms of cordial intimacy for half a century, the two friends were but a short while separated by death, Dr. Henderson surviving Principal Fairbairn little more than a month.
Always an exemplary and laborious student, Mr. Fairbairn before leaving the Hall attracted the special attention of Dr. Brunton, who procured for him the situation of tutor in the family of his brother-in-law, Captain Balfour, a large Orkney proprietor. He went to Orkney in 1827; and by the way in which he performed his duties, he so commended himself to Captain Balfour, that through the interest of that gentleman he was appointed by the Crown in 1830 to the Parliamentary Parish of North Ronaldshay. He had been licensed to preach the gospel by the Presbytery of Dunse, on the 3d October 1826.
North Ronaldshay is the most northerly of the Orkney Islands, and is of no great size or importance. The inhabitants were addicted to some strange and semi-barbarous customs when Mr. Fairbairn entered upon his charge. Many of them had the repute of being ‘wreckers;’ and the morality of the island was by no means high. They had not been accustomed to an evangelical ministry, or any of the best influences of the gospel. Indeed, during the last and the earlier part of the present century, the ministers of the Established Church in Orkney were, as a class, by no means distinguished for sound doctrine or Christian practice. Not a few of them had actually done much to bring the ministry into contempt by unbecoming conduct. But when Mr. Fairbairn commenced his pastoral duties he immediately took high ground, and both as a preacher and as a pastor he strenuously endeavoured to instruct and reform his parishioners. The good fruits of his faithful ministry were soon manifested in the improved character and habits of the islanders. The improvement effected by the young minister was so marked, that it attracted the attention of all who visited, or were specially interested in, North Ronaldshay.
It may be truly said, that the studies which laid the foundation of Mr. Fairbairn’s theological eminence began only after he had left the Divinity Hall. About the time when he was licensed as a preacher, or looked forward to ordination as a minister in Orkney, he formed a regular plan of professional study of no slight or superficial character, but solid, laborious, and systematic; and that plan he carried out with unflinching perseverance. He determined to make himself thoroughly master of the Hebrew and German languages, in order more effectually to equip himself as a scientific theologian; and having become in good time an excellent Hebrew and German scholar, he entered on a course of theological reading and inquiry which led to important results. When he was about to be ordained at North Ronaldshay, where some of his friends thought he was in danger of being buried, his brother asked him how long he would like to remain in Orkney. ‘Just six years,’ he instantly and decidedly replied; for, on full consideration, he had calculated on such a period for the completion of the studies he had projected for himself in his remote island home. And it so happened that, after he had spent about six years at North Ronaldshay, he was appointed minister of the new ‘Extension’ Church of Bridgeton, in the city of Glasgow.
In 1833 he was married to Miss Margaret Pitcairn, sister of the late Rev. Thomas Pitcairn, minister of Cockpen, who became first clerk of the Free Church General Assembly. Another brother of that lady, the Rev. David Pitcairn, at one time a minister in Orkney, went to the south of England and attained some eminence as a Christian author. Of several children, the fruit of this marriage, only one grew up, John Fairbairn, who, after spending some years in the Island of Java, ultimately settled in Australia, where he died only a few days after hearing of the death of his father. Mrs. Fairbairn died in childbirth, at Glasgow, soon after she and her husband had reached their new sphere of usefulness. Her infant, and another child, a fine boy of about three years of age, only a few weeks after her death followed her to the grave.
After faithfully performing the laborious duties of his Glasgow charge for about three years, Mr. Fairbairn was translated to the parish of Salton, East Lothian, which had been rendered vacant by the appointment of the Rev. Robert Hamilton to the Presbyterian chaplaincy at Madras. The predecessor of Mr. Hamilton in Salton had been the Rev. Robert Buchanan, now of the College Free Church, Glasgow, a churchman of the highest eminence in Scotland, and a man who for nearly forty years was the trusting and trusted friend of Patrick Fairbairn. Salton is also noted as having been for some years under the pastoral care of Gilbert Burnet, afterwards Bishop of Salisbury. That eminent dignitary left a considerable sum of money to found and support a library for the use of his successors in that Scottish parish, and for the education of a number of children of poor parishioners. Mr. Fairbairn took special delight in putting the Bishop’s library into good working order, and probably derived more benefit from it than any of his predecessors. While he carefully prepared his pulpit discourses, and diligently discharged the numerous duties of a country minister, he was always a laborious student, avaricious of time, and delighting in intellectual toil. He had already translated some works from the German, for the well-known publishers Messrs. Clark of Edinburgh, and was by this time meditating that original work which was destined to give him a high place in British theological literature.
Having from the very commencement of his ministry belonged to the ‘Evangelical Party’ in the Church of Scotland, Mr. Fairbairn manfully supported his views in the Church courts, though he did not aspire to the position of an ecclesiastical leader. At the Disruption of 1843 he had no hesitation in joining the Free Church, and indeed was the first of his brethren in the Presbytery to leave his manse and face the hardships of the trying time. He found shelter for himself and his family, first in the neighbouring parish of Bolton, and afterwards in the town of Haddington; but in spite of distance from his people he visited them regularly, and fulfilled every duty of a diligent pastor, while he still carried on his loved theological studies. Of the Presbytery of Haddington, to which he belonged, nine out of sixteen ministers had joined the Free Church; and he took a leading part in helping to form the new Free Church Presbytery, and generally to advance the interests of religion in the district. But at that period of sharp contention between rival Churches he showed no unworthy bitterness of spirit. With the late Dr. Cook of Haddington and some other of his former co-presbyters he continued on terms of friendship, though he differed widely from them on certain points of theory and practice.
In 1845 he published, in one thick duodecimo volume, his Typology of Scripture, a work which had occupied a great part of his leisure for a number of years. It was subsequently published in two volumes, and reached some time ago a fifth edition. In its enlarged and improved form it is as free from imperfections as any work of the kind can well be, and it is now universally regarded as a standard theological treatise. The subject of the Old Testament types had never before been handled in a philosophical and satisfactory manner by any British or American theologian.
It was reserved for the Free Church minister of Salton to produce a work upon it which, for critical insight, grasp of principle, and solid though unostentatious learning, was not surpassed, if even equalled, by any similar theological performance of the day. It is unnecessary to dwell upon the merits of a work so well known and so highly prized as the Typology of Scripture. It is one of those fresh and valuable contributions to our modern theological literature which is sure to keep its ground, and to be always in great request among students of theology. The writer of this sketch well remembers visiting, soon after its publication, Trinity College, Dublin, and seeing on the library table a copy of it, well worn, and apparently in high favour with the students. He could not help remarking, that while the richly-endowed Fellows of the College had done nothing of importance on the field of theology, there was at least one sterling theological work produced by a disendowed Presbyterian minister which they had the discernment to value and to introduce into their library.
In 1846, Messrs. Clark of Edinburgh published the first volume of an English translation of Hengstenberg’s Commentary on the Psalms. Two other volumes subsequently appeared, completing the work. The translators were Mr. Fairbairn and the Rev. John Thomson, an accomplished German scholar, now minister of St. Ninian’s Free Church, Leith. Mr. Fairbairn had previously, when in North Ronaldshay, translated for the Biblical Cabinet, a foreign theological series published by the same eminent firm, Steiger on 1st Peter, and Lisco on the Parables. His knowledge of German, thus early and well exercised, was undoubtedly of good service to him as an earnest theological student. It introduced him to a vast and varied field of theology which must be traversed by every one in these days who would truly earn the name of theologian. But while he prized the excellences, he was well aware of the defects and dangers, of German theology, even of that large section of it which cannot fairly be called Rationalistic. Few of his countrymen have equalled him in making good use of German learning and its solid results, while rejecting what is inconsistent with sound doctrine or that reverence which is due to the word of God. In his Typology, and in most of his other publications, we find an excellent combination of German erudition with Scottish orthodoxy.
Towards the latter end of 1847, Mr. Fairbairn was invited to London to deliver a course of theological lectures in the newly instituted College of the English Presbyterian Church. On that occasion he first displayed his peculiar qualification for a theological chair, and may be said to have commenced his professorial career. His services were highly appreciated by the professors and students of the new College, and he always looked back with pleasure to this episode in his life. Professor Lorimer, and several of the ministers of the English Presbyterian Church who attended his lectures, speak at this day in the warmest terms of his learning and ability. They also testify to the great respect which they entertained for him, and the expectations they formed of his future eminence.
In 1851 he published, in one volume, his work entitled Ezekiel, and the Book of his Prophecy. This performance, in popularity, perhaps also in freshness and originality, ranks next to his Typology. In it the most difficult subjects are discussed with great ability and judgment. The principles of interpretation applied by the author in his exposition of the obscurest of the prophets commend themselves to the understanding of sober and philosophical critics. We do not know if a sounder and more profitable book on Ezekiel has been published in our times, and it is likely to keep its place in our modern theological literature.
In the course of 1851 and 1852, Messrs. Clark published in two successive volumes, Hengstenberg’s Commentary on the Revelation of St. John, translated by Mr. Fairbairn. The work of translation in this instance was peculiarly delicate, the translator in some important matters not agreeing with his author; but the difficulties of the task were well surmounted, and a most important contribution to Apocalyptic literature was made accessible to the English public. It may also here be mentioned, that shortly before this time Mr. Fairbairn had published an interesting little work on the Book of Jonah, in which he took a more favourable than the common view of that prophet’s character. Any complete list of his works would likewise include various lectures, pamphlets, and contributions to magazines, which proceeded from his pen chiefly about this period. A pamphlet on the real opinions of the leading Reformers about the obligation of the Sabbath was published by him, so early as 1842, at the request of some of his brethren who took a special interest in the subject. It was admitted to be a very valuable contribution to the right discussion of the Sabbath question; but it has long been out of print.
In the autumn of 1852, Mr. Fairbairn was appointed assistant to Dr. Maclagan, Professor of Divinity in the Free Church College, Aberdeen. In December, only a month after he had commenced his work in the college, he met with the severest possible domestic bereavement. His second wife, Mary Playfair, whom he had married before leaving Glasgow, was seized with fever at Salton a few days after giving birth to a daughter, her fourth child. On hearing of her dangerous illness he hastened home from Aberdeen; but he had only the sad satisfaction of being with his excellent partner during her last days on earth. Having committed to the grave her mortal remains, he made the requisite arrangements for the proper care of his motherless children, and returned to his post. His duties, notwithstanding this heavy trial, were discharged during the whole session with signal energy and success. His great sorrow, through the grace of God, had only the effect of deepening his sense of responsibility in the performance of the important work committed to his hand. By the General Assembly of the following year he was appointed Professor at Aberdeen in room of Dr. Maclagan, who had died before his assistant entered on his duties. He always spoke in the warmest terms of the happiness he enjoyed at Aberdeen, notwithstanding his great bereavement and severe labours. The remarkable kindness shown him by numerous friends in that city made a pleasing and deep impression on his memory.
In the summer of 1853, Professor Fairbairn visited the Continent in company with his friend John Elliot Wilson, Esq., Cranbrook, Kent. Mr. Wilson and he had become acquainted in 1845, through means of a correspondence in regard to some theological point touched on in the Typology. A correspondence, originating in the desire of the English gentleman to have some difficulties cleared up, led to a warm and lasting friendship between him and the Scottish theologian. It was some time before the two correspondents met; but their meeting only increased the strong affection which they had learned to cherish for each other. Mr. Wilson’s admiration of the character and works of his friend was very great; and Professor Fairbairn, in his turn, learned to regard his English admirer with something much deeper than gratitude, even with the warm affection inspired by high accomplishments and singular Christian worth. The annals of friendship may be searched in vain for a more sincere and honourable union of hearts than that which was formed between these two men, who, after long living far apart from each other, were in a somewhat unusual way brought together.
The two travellers proceeded to Brussels and Cologne, then to Bonn, Coblentz, Mainz, and Frankfort, enjoying as they went along the splendid scenery of the Rhine. From Frankfort they proceeded by one long day’s journey to Halle, in order to see its famous university. They were not much impressed either with the physical or moral aspect of the place, and unfortunately missed seeing its most celebrated professor, Tholuck, who was in the country. From Halle they went to Berlin, where they had an interview with Hengstenberg. This distinguished theologian, whose works Professor Fairbairn had helped to make known in Great Britain, did not favourably impress his visitors. Indeed, his appearance, manner, and spirit greatly disappointed them both. He looked more like an awkward and rather morose student than an accomplished theological professor, acquainted with the world as well as with his great science. The questions put to him by his English translator he answered curtly and imperfectly, while he had no questions whatever to put in regard to the state of religion and the Churches in Great Britain. But Hengstenberg had by this time surrendered himself to those high Lutheran views which greatly impaired his Christian usefulness, and lost him the confidence of the Evangelical party in Prussia. Having visited Potsdam, the travellers went to Hanover, and thence to Cologne on their return to England.
In 1857, the same two friends made a tour in Switzerland, visiting on their way Paris and Strasburg. They went on to Basle, Lucerne, Berne, Thun, Interlaken, Martigny, Chamonix, and Geneva, greatly admiring the scenery, and otherwise enjoying the delights of travel, mingled though these were with the usual fatigues. At Vevay they had a pleasant interview with Mr. Howson, now Dr. Howson, Dean of Chester; and at Geneva they met with Dr. Stevens, Rector of St. Andrew’s Church, Philadelphia, who spoke of Dr. Fairbairn’s works as being greatly valued in America, and acknowledged the benefit he had derived from their perusal. Interesting notes of both these Continental tours were written by Dr. Fairbairn, and are still preserved; but no extracts can be given in a brief narrative of this kind.
The Professor and his friend also made tours together at various times in the Highlands of Scotland, in Wales, in Cumberland, and in Ireland. On one occasion they likewise visited the two great English universities. At Oxford they met with Dr. Jelf, who seemed greatly struck with Dr. Fairbairn’s appearance, and courteously showed them the principal colleges and the library. They also breakfasted with the Rev. Edward A. Litton, who then first made the acquaintance of the Scottish professor, and afterwards contributed largely to the Imperial Bible Dictionary, at the request of its Editor. Their visit to Cambridge was also of a pleasant character. A Fellow of Christ’s College, who was a friend of Mr. Wilson, conducted them over the principal buildings. During all these excursions, Mr. Wilson spared no personal effort to promote the enjoyment of one whom he regarded with the highest admiration both as an author and a friend.
While Professor Fairbairn filled with general acceptance his chair at Aberdeen, the University of Glasgow conferred on him the honorary degree of Doctor in Divinity. The University of Edinburgh, where he had commenced and completed his literary and theological studies, thus missed the opportunity of being the first to recognise in a special way the merits of her distinguished alumnus.
In 1856, when the Free Church College of Glasgow was instituted, Dr. Fairbairn was appointed by the General Assembly its first professor, and in the following year he was elected to the office of Principal. The Glasgow College, at first equipped with three chairs, and a year after with a fourth, was presided over from the very outset by Dr. Fairbairn with great ability. He brought his valuable experience gained at Aberdeen to bear upon the management of the new Institution, and soon had the satisfaction of seeing it in excellent working order. While he discharged his onerous and often unexpectedly increased professional duties with signal success, he gave much time and thought to the improvement of the buildings of the College, the foundation and enlargement of its library, the better endowment of its chairs, and the transaction of its general business. Perhaps no man in the Free Church could have performed so well the numerous duties that devolved upon him as Principal, or which he voluntarily undertook out of zeal for the success of an Institution which he helped so materially to found and form, and which will long be associated with his name. And while as Professor and Principal of the College he commanded the respect of all his colleagues, and endeared himself to his students as their accomplished instructor and zealous friend, he took a high position in Glasgow as a public man, ready to give his countenance and assistance to every religious or benevolent enterprise that engaged the attention of that great commercial city. His majestic presence and dignified bearing, coupled with readiness of speech and unaffected suavity of manner, were sufficient to win favour in any company, to grace any platform, and to aid the advocacy of any Christian cause.
In 1856, Dr. Fairbairn published his work on Prophecy, viewed in its Distinctive Nature, its Special Functions, and Proper Interpretation. This was intended to be a sequel or supplement to the Typology; and certainly it partakes in many respects of such a character. But though an able performance, full of sound and solid views based on philosophical principles of interpretation, it has not escaped the common fate of supplementary works of the kind. It has not been so popular as the Typology, but it undoubtedly deserves to be studied by all admirers of that excellent work. In 1858, its author also published a Hermeneutical Manual, or Introduction to the Exegetical Study of the Scriptures of the New Testament. This work contains many able discussions of difficult texts and subjects that meet the student of the New Testament; but, from its very nature, it is more of a text-book for a theological class than a work likely to attract the attention of the public. Though worthy of his reputation, it has never gained general favour.
A man of Principal Fairbairn’s eminence could not fail to receive the highest honour the Free Church has to bestow. Accordingly, in 1864, he was elected Moderator of the Free Church General Assembly. His dignified conduct in the chair was universally admitted, while his opening and his closing address as Moderator were admirable in tone and sentiment. It may here be remarked, that while his favourite occupations were those of the scholar and the professor, he had an excellent knowledge of Church business, and took a fair share of the burden of ecclesiastical government. When he spoke in his Presbytery or in the General Assembly, he uniformly commanded the attention of his brethren, and his views were received with more than ordinary respect. The weight of his character gave him peculiar power in debate; and when he failed to convince, he never offended his opponents. In the great Union controversy, which lasted from 1863 to 1873, he found himself always in the same ranks with his revered friend Dr. Buchanan; but temperate in the advocacy of his own opinions, he did everything in his power to mitigate and allay those unhappy contentions that for a time estranged so many of his brethren from one another.
During many years of his residence at Glasgow, Dr. Fairbairn acted as editor of the Imperial Bible Dictionary, an important work published by Messrs. Blackie and Son. Even before he went to Glasgow as professor, it had been virtually arranged that he should occupy that responsible literary post. But some years elapsed before he had actually to enter on his editorial duties. The labour and anxiety he underwent for many years in connection with this great undertaking severely taxed both his intellectual and physical energies. He was assisted, of course, by a staff of able contributors; but not a few of these failed at the last moment to send articles they had promised, and he had of necessity to supply by a great effort their lack of service. None but a man of his high attainments in biblical scholarship could have so promptly and adequately met the varied exigencies that arose during the preparation of such a work, and its progress through the press. His arduous labours in this undertaking came to an end in 1866, when at length the Imperial Dictionary was completed. The work combines, in an almost unrivalled degree, sacred learning of a high order with sound doctrine and an evangelical spirit. Its admirable pictorial illustrations add greatly to its interest and value.
Soon after this great work was off his hands, Dr. Fairbairn was appointed to deliver in Edinburgh the third series of ‘Cunningham Lectures.’ The first series, on the ‘Fatherhood of God,’ had been delivered by Dr. Candlish, and the second series, on the ‘Doctrine of Justification,’ by Dr. James Buchanan, one of the Professors of Theology in the New College, Edinburgh. Dr. Fairbairn chose for his subject the ‘Revelation of Law in Scripture,’ and treated it in nine separate lectures, the first of which he delivered on the 3d March 1868. The whole of them, in terms of the trust deed founding the lectureship, were published in a single volume soon after their delivery. This work undoubtedly possesses high merit as a philosophical treatise on an important theological subject; but in its nature and style it is too abstract to be popular. It is not unworthy, however, of that excellent foundation which the Free Church of Scotland owes to the self-denying liberality of Mr. Binny Webster.
At the meeting of the Free Church Commission in March 1867, Dr. Fairbairn, Dr. Guthrie, and Mr. Wells of the Barony Free Church, Glasgow, were appointed a deputation to visit the Assemblies of certain Presbyterian Churches in America. These ministers, with their wives, sailed from Liverpool for America in the April following; but Dr. Guthrie, owing to serious indisposition, was obliged to disembark at Queenstown, and thus was unfortunately prevented from paying a long-expected visit to his numerous friends on the other side of the Atlantic. Dr. Fairbairn and Mr. Wells first visited the Assembly of the Old School and also that of the New School Presbyterians, and found both of these bodies hopefully negotiating that grand Union which has since been so happily consummated. They were received by their American brethren with great cordiality, and loaded with hospitable attentions. The learned Principal, whose name had travelled before him across the sea, and whose ‘Jove-like presence’ excited general admiration, was everywhere specially welcomed as a scholar of distinction. The two deputies next visited the Synod of the United Presbyterian Church and the Synod of the Reformed (Dutch) Church in the United States, and afterwards the Synod of the Canadian Church not in connection with the Established Church of Scotland. They also took the opportunity of spending a few days at Princeton, for the sake of seeing its celebrated college, which has since risen into increased prosperity under the vigorous presidency of Dr. M’Cosh. Dr. Hodge, that prince of American theologians, was absent at the time, but Dr. Fairbairn had afterwards the satisfaction of spending a day with him in Washington.
When the Committee was constituted for revising our authorized version of the Old Testament Scriptures, Dr. Fairbairn was naturally selected as one of the representatives of the Biblical scholarship of Scotland. He attended most of the meetings of the Committee from the commencement of its arduous labours to nearly the period of his death, and bestowed upon his work much careful study. It is understood that his services were highly valued by his learned colleagues. On at least one occasion he was voted in a very complimentary fashion into the chair. The meeting-place of the Committee, the celebrated Jerusalem Chamber, interested him greatly, from its Presbyterian associations, though he acknowledged that a room more convenient for the purpose might easily have been selected. Having at one time expressed a wish to resign his seat in consequence of the growing inconvenience of his journeys to London, he was entreated by his colleagues to change his mind; and he, on public rather than private grounds, agreed to co-operate with them some time longer. He expected that the revision of our English Bible would be successful and ultimately popular, but was not sanguine about its completion at a comparatively early date.
In 1871, the Principal received an unexpected expression of the extraordinary affection with which he was regarded by the young men who had studied at the Glasgow Free Church College. A sum of £200 was subscribed with enthusiastic eagerness by his ‘present and former students’ in order to present him with a full-length portrait of himself by an artist of acknowledged eminence. Mr. Norman Macbeth, A.R.S.A., was selected, and succeeded in producing a very fine picture as well as an admirable likeness. After it had graced the walls of the Royal Scottish Academy’s Exhibition in Edinburgh, it was presented to Dr. Fairbairn in due form at a meeting of subscribers and friends held at Glasgow in the following November. The Rev. James Nicoll of Free St. Stephen’s, Glasgow, acted as the spokesman of his fellow-students, and on handing over to their revered instructor the portrait in their name, delivered a very eloquent speech. The Principal, in his reply, adverted feelingly to the studies of his early life, the methods of study he had followed, and the great objects he had always endeavoured to keep stedfastly in view. He also spoke of the evening of life drawing on, and the necessity of increased earnestness in doing his work while health and strength remained.
The Rev. Robert Howie of Govan, who, along with Mr. Nicoll and the Rev. Archibald Henderson of Crieff, took an active part in the management of the necessary details, bears the strongest testimony to the feelings of love and veneration for Principal Fairbairn manifested by all his students when subscribing to this testimonial. The portrait, after being publicly exhibited in Glasgow, was hung up in the hall of the Free Church College, where it still remains, having been bequeathed by the Principal to that Institution.
At the commencement of the College Session in November 1872, Principal Fairbairn discharged the important duty of presiding at the induction of Professor Candlish and the ordination of Professor Lindsay, both of whom had been appointed to chairs in the Glasgow College by the preceding General Assembly. He preached from 2Ti_2:2, and delivered a very appropriate discourse, in which he addressed his new colleagues in an affectionate and faithful manner. Taking the deepest interest in everything bearing on the prosperity of the Theological Institution over which he presided, he specially rejoiced, on this auspicious occasion, in the prospect of its undiminished efficiency.
Early in 1874, he published an elaborate work, in one volume, on the Pastoral Epistles. In a learned introduction, the authenticity of the epistles, recently assailed by many German critics, is ably and successfully vindicated. Then the Greek text is given with a new translation. But the most valuable part of the work is a commentary, or series of expository notes, displaying fine discernment, sound sense, and the varied results of genuine learning. In an appendix, some important points receive a fuller discussion than could find a place in the body of the work. This is really one of the best of the author’s books, and ought to be one of the most popular. It is a very fresh and useful contribution to modern biblical literature; and the present volume, which is full of the spirit of the Pastoral Epistles, will, it is expected, be ranged by its side in many theological libraries.
In a limited sketch like this, no details of Principal Fairbairn’s private life or personal religion can find a place. But it must be stated that his house always presented a picture of domestic happiness and intelligent piety. In 1861 he was married to Miss Fanny Turnbull, a lady in every way fitted to add to his comfort and usefulness. The pain of former sad bereavements was gradually forgotten during the latter years of his life, than which, in a domestic point of view, none could be more tranquil and happy.
While his time was largely spent in severe intellectual toil, and in the diligent discharge of arduous official duties, his inward spiritual life steadily increased, and he appeared to realize, with growing vividness, the preciousness of those great Christian doctrines he had done so much to elucidate and defend. And thus, when in the course of last year were held in Glasgow the remarkable series of evangelistic meetings which have been associated with the names of Messrs. Moody and Sankey, he took a deep interest in the religious movement that ensued, and publicly gave it his support. He presided over several of the meetings at which Mr. Moody was the chief speaker, and rejoiced in the success of the great evangelist’s work. That work was especially commended to the support of not a few through the countenance given to it by such a wise and judicious man as Principal Fairbairn.
On the 16th April 1874, Dr. Fairbairn attended a great evangelistic Convention held in the ‘Crystal Palace,’ Glasgow, and delivered an earnest and valuable address; but, owing to the heat and excitement, as well as to some previous derangement of his system, he suddenly felt sick and unwell before the business was far advanced, and had to leave the meeting. When he reached his house, he went to bed, being prostrated by what may be called the first serious illness of his life. He had always been a remarkably healthy man, methodical and temperate in his habits, an early riser, and accustomed to take long walks before breakfast. Yet, while he had appeared to enjoy perfect health and strength, there can be little doubt that his constant devotion to study during a long course of years had gradually developed an affection of the heart, which seems to have been up to this period totally unsuspected. This sudden and threatening attack, which confined him to his bed for a few days, yielded to medical treatment, and all serious danger was soon considered to be over. But he was advised to spend a month or two of the summer in the country, where he could tranquilly enjoy pure air and necessary relaxation. Accordingly, accompanied by Mrs. Fairbairn, his daughter, and a few other near relatives, he went to Arrochar, Dumbartonshire, in the beginning of June; and, being favoured with fine weather, he greatly enjoyed his sojourn in that romantic locality. All around him remarked that he seemed to be regaining completely his former strength and spirits. The mellowed tone of his conversation, and the finer traits of his character, brought out, as it were, by affliction, also gave a new charm to his society, and endeared him more than ever to his loved domestic circle.
When at Arrochar, he returned to Glasgow for a single day to preach in the evening, and preside at the ordination of Messrs. Gibson and Barclay as missionaries to China. This service, though it broke in upon his needed leisure, was quite congenial to his feelings; and he had peculiar satisfaction in ordaining to the ministry two devoted young men,—one of them the son of his former colleague, Professor Gibson,—who had offered themselves as labourers in a difficult part of the Foreign Mission field. He delivered on this occasion a very beautiful and appropriate discourse from Psalms 126, which has been published since his death in the Christian Treasury.
On the 3oth of June he went up to London to attend a meeting of the Old Testament Revision Committee; and on the Saturday following he paid a visit to his friend Mr. Wilson, which he greatly enjoyed. Of that visit Mr. Wilson writes: ‘It was short, but never can be forgotten by myself or household. He bore evident traces of his recent illness; but still more evident were the signs of deepening conformity to his Saviour’s likeness, and of fellowship with his God.’ Having completed his attendance on the Revision Committee, he returned to Glasgow on the nth July.
The following week he went to Berwickshire to visit some of his relatives; preached in the Free Church, Eyemouth, on the 19th; and went to Greenlaw on the 24th, to assist his brother at his Communion. On the Sabbath he spoke at the Communion Table, and preached in the evening with great unction and power. Many were deeply moved by his words and still more by the spirit that breathed through all his ministrations. Leaving Mrs. Fairbairn and his daughter behind him, he returned to Glasgow on the following Tuesday, in order to be present at a meeting of the Board for the examination of students in Divinity, that was to be held in the course of the week.
On the Monday following, the 3d of August, he received intelligence of the serious illness of his eldest son in Australia. This painfully affected him; but he endeavoured to bear the afflicting news as calmly as possible. Yet Mrs. Fairbairn, on hearing from him on the subject, immediately left Greenlaw, and joined him at Glasgow. On Thursday evening he conducted family worship as usual, and retired to rest about eleven o’clock. In little more than half an hour, a peculiar breathing gave indication of a sudden and fatal attack, which almost immediately ended in death. Without a note of warning, either to himself or his beloved partner, his spirit, in the solemn silence of midnight, suddenly passed away. Thus terminated, as by a swift translation, a truly noble life. Like Chalmers, Patrick Fairbairn was spared all abatement of mental strength, the feebleness of old age, the pain and struggle of the last conflict. In the fulness of his power and usefulness, yet not before his work was done, he was summoned to rest from his labours, and to enter into the joy of his Lord.
On the 13th August he was buried at Edinburgh, in the Grange Cemetery, which contains the precious dust of so many of God’s honoured servants. Not far from the graves of Thomas Chalmers, William Cunningham, Thomas Guthrie, and many other eminent Christian worthies, his mortal remains are laid, in the hope of a blessed resurrection.
The death of this distinguished man was deeply lamented, not only by the members of his own Communion, but by many in all the Churches to whom his name and works were familiar. The writer of this sketch happened to be out of Scotland when the sad event occurred, and he can testify to the deep sorrow it excited among ministers in other lands, and of various denominations. Presbyterian and Episcopalian admirers of the Typology vied with one another in expressing their regret for the loss which the Chtirch of Christ had sustained by the death of its author.
Principal Fairbairn left a widow, three sons, and a daughter. His eldest son, as has been mentioned, died in Australia soon after his father’s death. Two sons, Patrick and Thomas, and a daughter, Mary Ann, all by his second wife, still survive. Patrick is settled at Demerara; Thomas is at present in Shanghai. An interesting daughter, Jane, after growing up to womanhood, died at Glasgow in 1859, and was interred beside her mother in the family burying-ground in the Grange Cemetery, Edinburgh, where her father is now also laid. It may serve various useful purposes to inscribe the names of an eminent man’s children in any account, however brief, of their father’s life.