Horatius was known by his friends as Horace.
He graduated from the University of Edinburgh and was ordained in 1838 at age 30.
In 1843, he married Jane Catherine, who was in perfect sympathy with him in faith in Christ, in spirit, and in doctrine. They had nine children, five of whom died in succession. Bonar wrote of this as a very great trial of suffering. When in his old age his widowed daughter moved back to the family home with five small children, he saw this as a great blessing from God. Bonar wrote the heart-rending poem “Lucy” in August 1858 on the death of a daughter.
As if its flight to stay;
Till, as the dawn was coming up,
Our last hope passed away.
She was the music of our home,
A day that knew no night,
The fragrance of our garden-bower
A thing all smiles and light.”
Horatius was a man of strong spiritual and doctrinal conviction who was willing to fight for his beliefs. He was a spiritual warrior and a man of faith.
In 1843, at age 35, Horatius became a “come outer” when he joined about 450 other preachers in departing from the Church of Scotland to form the Free Church of Scotland. This was a product of the Second Great Awakening with its zeal for the new birth, the infallibility of Scripture, spiritual discipleship, and evangelism. The Free Church preachers wanted greater congregational freedom from government control and the power of the congregations to choose their own ministers. Thomas Chalmers, Horatius’ professor of theology at Edinburgh, was the first Moderator. These zealous ministers gave up their former positions, income, pensions, and manses (houses). They trusted in God alone and were not disappointed. This is a rare stance in any age. The Free Church went on to establish hundreds of churches and schools. Though Calvinistic, it had great zeal for evangelistic enterprises, including Sunday Schools, missions to the poor, and overseas missions (i.e., David Livingstone to Africa). There was a large response by commoners such as miners, fishermen, and craftsmen.
Bonar preached in the cities as well as in open air campaigns, in farms, villages, and rural schools. “The chief characteristic of his preaching was its strange solemnity. It was full of entreaty and warning. Dr. Bonar exhibited with faithful simplicity and decision the great things of the Gospel, but he was never content without applying them to the consciences of his hearers.” With two other preachers, he witnessed much blessing in village ministries in the countries of Roxburgh, Berwick, and Northumberland. “Whole villages [were] awakened, besides many stray souls, both young and old gathered into the church of God, from various quarters ... Many rebuffs we got, many angry letters, many threats of ecclesiastical censure ... but, in spite of all this, the work went on.”
Bonar interpreted prophecy literally and held to Christ’s pre-millennial second coming. He wrote a commentary on Revelation and several books on prophecy that refuted post-millennialism. These include The Night of Weeping (1845), Prophetical Landmarks (1847), The Coming and Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ (1849), and The Morning of Joy (1850). He founded and edited The Quarterly Journal of Prophecy. He believed the allegorical interpretation of prophecy was a harmful thing that had hidden the Blessed Hope from multitudes of Christians.
The literal interpretation of prophecy gave Bonar a right perspective of end-time Christianity. He saw the apostasy prophesied in Scripture. In a typical sermon he said, “I know not but this may be my last opportunity of bearing witness to the much-forgotten doctrine which was so specially given to the Church as her blessed hope; and I wish to say how increasingly important that doctrine is to me as the ages are running to their close, and the power of the great adversary is unfolding itself both in the church and in the world. ... The poison of the last days has penetrated everywhere. Unbelief, error, strong delusion, self-will, pride, hatred of God and of His Christ—these are the deadly forces operating all over the earth, disintegrating society, and demonstrating the necessity for the return of Him who is to end all of Satan's and man's evil work, and introduce the kingdom of righteousness and peace” (Christopher Knapp, Who Wrote Our Hymns?, 1925).
Bonar warned of the rapid spread of science (falsely so called), philosophy, theological liberalism, and worldliness in British churches in his own lifetime. After 50 years of ministry he wrote, “The changes that have taken place in public opinion, in theological speculation, in ecclesiastical discipline, in religious sentiment; in spiritual thought, in conjectural criticism, in the value attached to belief and non-belief, in the new codes of hermeneutical law and in the rejection of creeds, and in the refusal of any guidance or control save those of science and philosophy, the adoption of culture, and the like, have been immense over these fifty years since my ministry began.”
Because of the literal interpretation of prophecy, Bonar understood that Israel would be restored to her land, converted, and reside at the heart of Christ’s millennial reign. He had this faith 100 years before the modern state of Israel was founded in 1948. When Bonar visited Jerusalem in 1856, he described for his hearers the glory of the coming kingdom. One hearer said, “One dark night in the year 1856, in the city Jerusalem, I wandered into a lighted mission-room on Mount Zion, where a small company of men and women of various nationalities and complexions were gathered. At the desk was a man of impressive countenance, of low and musical voice. ... The preacher, as I learned later, was Dr. Horatius Bonar. Learned and eloquent, there was a wonderful charm in what he said that night, because he had strong convictions on that subject of much speculation—the second coming of the Lord. He believed in His personal coming, to reign on the earth; and his faith, seconded by his rich poetic imagination and fervor, all quickened by the fact that we were in Jerusalem, the city of the Passion, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection and the Ascension gave to his words a winning power which I cannot describe. He had no specific time for the Advent. He did not argue in controversy, but gave himself up to the scene where, sooner or later, the King shall come again to walk in the streets of His abasement, in the effulgence of the sunlight that shall attend Him. ... To hear such a man in Jerusalem, having a firm belief in the personal coming and reign of Christ, thus to communicate to others freely his confident hopes, was a memorable event” (Knapp, Who Wrote Our Hymns?, 1925).
Horatius Bonar is the most prominent and prolific Scottish hymn writer. He is called “the prince of Scottish hymn writers.” He authored over 600 poems and hymns, about 140 of which were published. Many are still sung widely today. They focus on the great themes of the infinite sufficiency of Christ’s vicarious atonement, the gospel of grace alone, regeneration, the Trinity, God’s love, Christ’s high priesthood, the trying of faith, confidence in Christ, holiness, surrender and devotion, the comfort of the Spirit, spiritual warfare, and Christ’s return.
Bonar’s hymns are simple, but there is theological depth. They are practical, but the practice is always founded on solid doctrine. They are written in meter and can thus be sung to a variety of tunes.
Bonar wrote many songs and hymns for children. “What struck him as he first watched them in 1833 during their times of worship was how fidgety many of them were. He soon came up with the idea of providing them with hymns of their own, set to tunes the children knew well and liked to sing. The experiment, as it were, worked, and he noticed a marked improvement in their paying attention during the times of worship in the Sabbath School” (Horatius Bonar: The Finest Hymnwriter of Scotland).
This was pioneering work in the staunch, super-solemn Scottish presbyterian churches of that day.
For a long time, Bonar’s hymns were read and not sung in most of the Scottish churches, including the churches he pastored, because of their traditional view that only Psalms should be sung. He was publicly rebuked in The Signal, a Free Church magazine, for his role in introducing hymn singing into Presbyterian worship. He was willing to bear this reproach, for Scripture twice states that “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (not only psalms) are to be sung in the churches (Eph. 5:18; Col. 3:16). It was not until his old age that his own congregation started singing his hymns.
Bonar supported D.L. Moody’s evangelistic meetings in Scotland in 1873-74 and wrote hymns for Ira Sankey.
Bonar published hymn collections, including Songs for the Wilderness (1843), Bible Hymn Book (1845), and Hymns of Faith and Hope (1857)
Though Bonar promoted hymn singing, he warned about the power of exuberant hymns and music to create a false sense of spiritual reality in the hearts of the hearers. “One is often inclined to ask how far some of these exulting hymns may be the utterance of excitement or sentimentalism ... hymns are often the channels through which much unreality is given vent to in ‘religious life.’ Song, like music, is often deceitful, making people unwittingly believe themselves to be what they are not. The amount of superficial similarity which has, in all ages, been introduced into and fostered in the Church by music, is incalculable. High-wrought feeling produced by it in conjunction with song, has in many a case misled both the singer and the listener into a belief that their heart was beating truly and nobly towards Christ, when all the goodness was like the morning cloud and early dew.”
“I Hear the Words of Love” (1861)
Tune: St. Michael (Geneva) or Newland (Gauntlett)
1 I hear the words of love;
I gaze upon the blood;
I see the mighty sacrifice,
and I have peace with God.
2 ’Tis everlasting peace,
sure as Jehovah’s name;
’tis stable as His steadfast throne,
forevermore the same.
3 The clouds may go and come,
and storms may sweep my sky,
this blood-brought friendship changes not;
the cross is ever nigh.
4 I change- He changes not;
the Christ can never die;
His love, not mine, the resting place;
His truth, not mine, the tie.
5 My love is oft-times low;
my joy still ebbs and flows;
but peace with Him remains the same;
no change Jehovah knows.
Sound tracks and mp3
“Not What My Hands Have Done” (1864)
1 Not what my hands have done can save my guilty soul; Not what my toiling flesh has borne can make my spirit whole. Not what I feel or do can give me peace with God; Not all my prayers and sighs and tears can bear my awful load.
2 Your voice alone, O Lord, can speak to me of grace; Your power alone, O Son of God, can all my sin erase. No other work but Yours, no other blood will do; No strength but that which is divine can bear me safely through.
3 Thy work alone, O Christ, can ease this weight of sin; Thy blood alone, O Lamb of God, can give me peace within. Thy love to me, O God, not mine, O Lord, to Thee, Can rid me of this dark unrest, And set my spirit free.
4 I bless the Christ of God; I rest on love divine; And with unfaltering lip and heart I call this Savior mine. His cross dispels each doubt; I bury in His tomb Each thought of unbelief and fear, each lingering shade of gloom.
5 I praise the God of grace; I trust His truth and might; He calls me His, I call Him mine, My God, my joy and light. ‘Tis He Who saveth me, and freely pardon gives; I love because He loveth me, I live because He lives.
Sound tracks, MIDI, mp3
“Through Good Report or Evil, Lord” (1866)
Tune: Handord (Sullivan), 88.84
1 Through good report and evil, Lord,
Still guided by Thy faithful Word,
Our staff, our buckler and our sword,
We follow Thee.
2 In silence of the lonely night,
In the full glow of day’s clear light,
Through life’s strange windings, dark or bright,
We follow Thee.
3 Strengthened by Thee we forward go,
’Mid smile or scoff of friend or foe,
Through pain or ease, through joy or woe,
We follow Thee.
4 With enemies on every side,
We lean on Thee, the Crucified;
Forsaking all on earth beside,
We follow Thee.
5 O Master, point Thou out the way,
Nor suffer Thou our steps to stray;
Then in the path that leads to day
We follow Thee.
6 Thou hast passed on before our face;
Thy footsteps on the way we trace;
O keep us, aid us by Thy grace;
We follow Thee.
7 Whom have we in the heaven above,
Whom on this earth, save Thee, to love?
Still in Thy light we onward move;
We follow Thee.
“Thy Way, Not Mine, O Lord” (1857)
1 Thy way, not mine, O Lord,
however dark it be;
lead me by thine own hand,
choose out the path for me.
2 Smooth let it be or rough,
it will be still the best;
winding or straight, it leads
right onward to thy rest.
3 I dare not choose my lot;
I would not if I might:
choose thou for me, my God,
so shall I walk aright.
4 The Kingdom that I seek
is thine; so let the way
that leads to it be thine,
else I must surely stray.
5 Take thou my cup, and it
with joy or sorrow fill,
as best to thee may seem;
choose thou my good and ill.
6 Choose thou for me my friends,
my sickness or my health;
choose thou my cares for me,
my poverty or wealth.
7 Not mine, not mine, the choice
in things or great or small;
be thou my guide, my strength,
my wisdom, and my all.
Sound tracks, MIDI
“I See a Man at God’s Right Hand” (1872)
1 I see a man at God's right hand,
Upon the throne of God,
And there in sevenfold light I see
The sevenfold sprinkled blood.
I look upon that glorious Man,
On that blood-sprinkled throne;
I know that he sits there for me,
That glory is my own.
2 The heart of God flows forth in love,
A deep eternal stream;
Through that belovéd Son it flows
To me as unto him.
And, looking on his face, I know-
Weak, worthless, though I be-
How deep, how measureless, how sweet,
That love of God to me.
3 The Lord who sits upon the throne
A W tho to m his inkled bilat' appears
That he may set them there.
From drear dark places of the earth,
From depths of sin and shame,
He takes the vessels for his grace,
A people for his name.
“Our Sins Were Borne By Jesus”
Tune: Fulness by W. Brockhaus
1 Our sins were borne by Jesus,
The holy Lamb of God:
He took them all, and freed us
From that condemning load.
Our guilt was borne by Jesus,
Who washed the crimson stains
White in His blood most precious,
Till not a spot remains.
2 Our wants are known to Jesus;
All fulness dwells in Him:
He healeth all diseases,
Who did our souls redeem.
We tell our griefs to Jesus,
Our burdens and our cares;
He from them all releases,
Who all our sorrow shares.
3 We love the name of Jesus,
The Christ of God, the Lord;
Like fragrance on the breezes,
His name is spread abroad.
We long to be with Jesus,
With all the ransomed throng,
For ever sing His praises,
The one eternal song.
“Done is the Work That Saves” (“The Work That Saves”)
Tune: Zebulon (Lowell Mason)
1 Done is the work that saves!
Once and for ever done.
Finished the righteousness
That clothes th’unrighteous one.
The love that blesses us below
Is flowing freely to us now.
2 The sacrifice is o’er,
The veil is rent in twain,
The mercy-seat is red
With blood of victim slain;
Why stand we then without, in fear?
The blood divine invites us near.
3 The gate is open wide,
The new and living way
Is clear and free and bright,
With love and peace and day;
Into the holiest now we come,
Our present and our endless home.
4 Upon the mercy-seat
The High Priest sits within;
The blood is in His hand
Which makes and keeps us clean.
With boldness let us now draw near,
That blood has banished every fear.
5 Then to the Lamb once slain
Be glory, praise, and power,
Who died and lives again,
Who liveth evermore;
Who loved and washed us in His blood.
Who made us kings and priests to God.
“Go, Labor on, Spend and Be Spent” (1843)
Tune: Pentecost (William Boyd)
1 Go, labor on; spend, and be spent,
thy joy to do the Father's will;
it is the way the Master went;
should not the servant tread it still?
2 Go, labor on; 'tis not for naught;
thine earthly loss is heav'nly gain;
men heed thee, love thee, praise thee not;
the Master praises- what are men?
3 Go, labor on; enough while here
if He shall praise thee, if He deign
thy willing heart to mark and cheer;
no toil for Him shall be in vain.
4 Go, labor on while it is day:
the world's dark night is hast'ning on.
Speed, speed thy work, cast sloth away;
It is not thus that souls are won.
5 Toil on, faint not, keep watch and pray;
be wise the erring soul to win;
go forth into the world's highway,
compel the wand'rer to come in.
6 Toil on, and in thy toil rejoice;
for toil comes rest, for exile home;
soon shalt thou hear the Bridegroom's voice,
the midnight peal, "Behold, I come."
Music scores (4 stanzas)
Alternative tunes: Ernan (Lowell Mason), Illinois (Johathan Spilman)
“All That I Was, My Sin and My Guilt”
1 All that I was, my sin, my guilt,
My death, was all my own;
All that I am I owe to Thee,
My gracious God, alone.
2 The evil of my former state
Was mine, and only mine;
The good in which I now rejoice
Is Thine, and only Thine.
3 The darkness of my former state,
The bondage, all was mine;
The light of life in which I walk,
The liberty, is Thine.
4 Thy Word first made me feel my sin,
It taught me to believe;
Then, in believing, peace I found,
And now I live, I live!
5 All that I am, e'en here on earth,
All that I hope to be,
When Jesus comes and glory dawns,
I owe it, Lord, to Thee.
Tune: ST. ANNE, “Our God Our Help in Ages Past” (common meter)
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