Horatius Bonar was born in Edinburgh on December 19th, 1808. He was one of seven boys, three of which entered upon gospel ministry (John James, Horatius, and Andrew) in their early years. He was ordained a minister in the Church of Scotland on November 30th, 1837, and was later given charge over the North Parish Church in Kelso. Bonar was counted among the dissenting ministers who left the Established Church to form the Free Church of Scotland in what was known as the Disruption of 1843. In 1866 he accepted a call to pastor in Edinburgh at the newly erected Chalmers Memorial Church. He was one in a long line of ministers in the Bonar family. In the May 1908 edition of The Scotsman magazine, they estimated that the Bonar descendants (John Bonar 1671-1747) served a total of 364 years in the pulpits of Scottish churches.
From the pulpit, Bonar’s message was simple and clear: he preached a crucified and risen Christ, whose righteousness alone was the only hope of sinners. He was adept in the exposition of a free gospel through the necessary sovereign workings of the Holy Spirit. His presentation always placed an emphasis on the urgent and immediate necessity of leaving one’s sin and coming to Christ; and this as the only means of reconciliation between man and God. In a rare autobiographical piece, Dr. Bonar wrote of his theology:
“Righteousness without works to the sinner, simply on his acceptance of the Divine message concerning Jesus and His sufficiency,–this has been the burden of our good news…It is one message, one gospel, one cross, one sacrifice, from which nothing can be taken and to which nothing can be added. This is the…beginning and the ending of our ministry.”
Dr. Bonar’s preaching was thoroughly biblical. He added nothing superfluous or superficial. He was not blessed with commanding powers of oration, but rather, was characterized as a sober and erudite preacher. It was once asked of one of his congregants if he was an eloquent man to which was replied, “No, he was not eloquent, but his doctrine was full and clear.” It was not his presence in the pulpit that captivated, for there was nothing in Dr. Bonar’s exposition that aimed at merely affecting the emotions. It was in his powerful and effective presentation of the evil of sin and the approaching doom of the impenitent sinner combined with an earnest commendation of Christ that moved his hearers. He strove to preach a biblical gospel that proclaimed the glory of God in the fullness of Christ; not one ashamedly suited for “itching ears.” Commenting on the state of the Christian faith in his day, Bonar once wrote: “It is not opinions that man needs, it is TRUTH. It is not theology, it is GOD. It is not religion, it is CHRIST. It is the knowledge of the free love of God in the gift of His only-begotten Son;” and it was towards these “needs” that Bonar aimed his message.
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