Patrick Fairbairn on the Priority of the New Covenant

From Patrick Fairbairn, Prophecy, page 152 ff.

It is implied that the revelations by prophecy, respecting the gospel age and its realities, were necessarily defective as to clearness and precision, and are not capable of bearing so exact an interpretation, or yielding so explicit a meaning, in respect to the affairs of Christ’s kingdom, as is conveyed by the writings of the New Testament.  But such, precisely, is the result that was to be expected, from the place and calling of the Old Testament prophets.  Though high in one respect, they were subordinate in another.  Indeed, they were subordinate in reference to the past, as well as to the future-subordinate even to Moses, so that they could not alter in any particular the polity introduced by him; and the primary and most fundamental test of their divine commission was the conformity of their teaching to that of the lawgiver.  The whole they could do in way of advance was to hold out the prospect and kindle the desire of another and better state of things.  But if inferior to Moses as regards the revelation of the mysteries of God’s kingdom, how much more in comparison of Christ?  Even John the Baptist was more than a prophet, because he stood within the actual dawn of Christ’s day; and yet such was the brightness which characterized this day, that John himself was less than the least of those who fully shared in its privileges.  Nor was this the case merely in general, but on specific points also it is expressly asserted that the revelations of Old Testament prophecy were much inferior in distinctness to those brought by the ambassadors of Christ.  Thus the Apostle Paul, when discoursing of what he calls “the mystery of Christ,” says: “it was not made known in other ages to the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto the holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit, that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the Gospel.” (Eph. iii.5,6).  Here the apostles and prophets of the New Testament are placed above the prophets of the Old, distinctly on the ground that in the matter referred to they had more clear and explicit revelations given them.  Nay, it is on these apostles and prophets of the new covenant that the entire temple of the Christian church is reared; not on them as apart from Christ, but as connected with Christ, and under Christ; as charged by Him with the whole ordering and establishing of the church in its institutions, privileges, government, and progress.  Could such things have been said and done, if the revelations by the ancient prophets, respecting the work and kingdom of Christ, had not been dim and imperfect, as compared with the announcements of the gospel?  And if those prophets received nothing in vision which could interfere with and unsettle what had been imparted to Moses, when God spake with him face to face, what an anomaly would it not be if their word were to be called in to supersede, or even to explicate and determine more perfectly, the word that came by Christian apostles and prophets!  This were truly to invert the natural order of things-to imagine one could find in twilight-gloom what is not to be perceived amid the sunshine of noon-day.  There cannot be a surer canon of interpretation, than that everything which affects the constitution and destiny of the New Testament Church has its clearest determination in New Testament Scripture. [emphasis his]

This canon, with the grounds on which it is based, strikes at the root of many false conclusions drawn mainly from ancient prophecy, respecting the events of the latter days-conclusions which always implicitly, and sometimes even avowedly, give the Old the ascendancy over the New; and, on the principle, which has its grand embodiment in Popery, would send the world back to the age of comparative darkness and imperfection for the type of its normal and perfected condition.