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Horatius Bonar, 1808-1889

Horatius BonarHoratius Bonar (1808–1889), Scottish divine, second son of James Bonar, second solicitor of excise, Edinburgh, was born in Edinburgh on 19 Dec. 1808. Educated at the high school and the university of Edinburgh, he had among his fellow students Robert Murray McCheyne and others, afterwards notable as evangelists. Licensed as a preacher, he did mission work in Leith for a time, and in November 1837 he settled at Kelso as minister of the new North Church founded in connection with Thomas Chalmers's scheme of church extension. He became exceedingly popular as a preacher, and was soon well known throughout Scotland.

In his early years at Kelso, he anticipated the methods of the evangelical alliance by frequently arranging for eight days or more of united prayer. He began the publication of pamphlets supplementary to his ministerial work, and he gradually produced evangelical books, such as God's Way of Peace and The Night of Weeping, the sale of the former almost immediately disposing of two hundred and eighty-five thousand copies, while of the latter an issue of fifty-nine thousand was speedily exhausted. For the advancement of his work in his congregation and his Sunday-school classes, he began in Leith the composition of hymns, continuing the practice in Kelso and afterwards.

He joined the Free Church [of Scotland] in 1843. On 9 April 1853, he received the honorary degree of D.D. from Aberdeen University. He was appointed minister of Chalmers Memorial Church, Edinburgh, on 7 June 1866. He was moderator of the general assembly of the Free Church in May 1883. A man of extraordinary energy and versatility, Bonar was one of the last among notable Edinburgh preachers to conduct services in the open air, and this he frequently did on a Sunday in addition to the regular work for his congregation. He died in Edinburgh on 31 July 1889.

Bonar married in 1843 Jane Katherine, third daughter of Robert Lundie (d. 1832), minister of Kelso. She sympathised fully with his work, and is herself said to have written religious verse. She predeceased him, as did also several members of his family. He was survived by three daughters and a son, who became a Free Church minister.

As a hymn writer, Bonar was able to consecrate a passing mood by giving it a tangible expression in verse. His best hymns are spontaneous, fluent, melodious, and devotional. Occasionally they are genuine lyrical poems, as e.g. "When the weary seeking rest" and "I heard the voice of Jesus say" which Bishop Fraser of Manchester thought the best hymn in the language. His Hymns of Faith and Hope were soon sold to the number of 140,729 copies. The standard value of his work is illustrated in the Scottish Church Hymnary [1898]—used in common by the three Scottish presbyterian churches and the Irish presbyterians—in which eighteen of his hymns occur, along with devotional lyrics drawn from all possible sources.

Early influenced by Edward Irving, who delivered in Edinburgh three series of lectures on the Apocalypse (1828–29–30), Bonar steadily adhered through life to the belief in the Second Advent, urging his views in Prophetic Landmarks (1847) and the Coming and Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ (1849), as well as in the Journal of Prophecy, which he edited.

Bonar published numerous religious tracts and sermons; edited Kelso Tracts, many of which he wrote; and contributed to the Imperial Bible Dictionary and Smith's Bible Dictionary. He was for a time editor of The Presbyterian Review, The Quarterly Journal of Prophecy, The Christian Treasury, and The Border Watch. He selected devotional readings, which he furnished in some cases with prefaces and notes.

His chief works were as follows:
1. 'Songs for the Wilderness,' 1843-4.
2. 'The Bible Hymn-Book,' 1845.
3. 'Hymns Original and Selected,' 1846.
4. 'The Desert of Sinai : Notes of a Journey from Cairo to Beersheba,' 1857.
5. 'Hymns of Faith and Hope' (translated into French), 3rd ser, 1857-61-6.
6. 'The Land of Promise: Notes of a Spring Journey from Beersheba to Sidon,' 1858
7. 'God's Way of Peace, a Book for the Anxious' (translated into French, German, and Gaelic), 1862.
8. 'Days and Nights in the East, or Illustrations of Bible Scenes,' 1866.
9. 'The Song of the New Creation, and other Pieces, 1872.
10. 'My Old Letters' (along autobiographical poem), 1877 ; 2nd edit. 1879.
11. 'Hymns of the Nativity, and other Pieces,' 1879.
12. 'The White Fields of France : an Account of Mr. M'All's Mission to the Working Men of Paris,' 1879,
13. 'Communion Hymns,' 1881.

From Dictionary of National Biography edited by Sidney Lee. Supplement vol. 1. London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1901.

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