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Rev. Horatius Bonar, D.D.

by Samuel Willoughby Duffield

Horatius BonarRev. Horatius Bonar, D. D,, is one of our most successful modern hymn-writers. No other name appears so frequently as his since the days of Watts and Wesley, Newton and Cowper. He has had the rare fortune to express the deepest of Christian feeling and the loftiest of Christian praise. But, strange to say, even his own congregation are rigid Psalm-singers to this day. He comes of a poetical family. His grandfather, Rev. John Bonar, also wrote hymns, some of which found acceptance.

Dr. Bonar was born December 19th, 1808, at Edinburgh. At the High School and the University there his education was received. His theological instructor was the celebrated Dr. Thomas Chalmers, and few scholars have reflected more credit on the faithful men that gave them their instruction than has he upon that great man who made Scotland even greater than before. At the time of the Disruption he followed his old teacher, and Dr. Guthrie, and the rest of the illustrious leaders, in the establishment of the Free Church, with which he has ever since been ecclesiastically connected. He is the brother of the commentator, Dr. Andrew A. Bonar, of Dundee, and his wife (just deceased, 1885) was the sister of that devotedly pious woman, Mary Lundie Duncan.

In 1837 he was ordained and settled at Kelso, on the river Tweed, near the English border. In this charge he succeeded his father-in-law. Rev. Robert Lundie. In 1866 he removed to Edinburgh, where he has since remained the pastor of the Grange, or "Chalmers Memorial" church. His pen has been constantly busy through all the years of his mature life. His "Kelso Tracts" were the early fruit of that productive zeal which has so enriched the literature of the Church at large. He has seen at least one extensive revival which can be traced to those pages scattered broadcast. Some of the later writings of this spiritually-minded and marvellously acute man have been circulated on both sides of the ocean with great acceptance. His two little books, God's Way of Peace and God's Way of Holiness, would relieve many a troubled Christian if he would turn to them in preference to abstract theology. Like all that Dr. Bonar does, they are eminently scriptural and practical.

His hymns are to be found in Songs for the Wilderness, two series, 1843-4; the Bible Hymn-Book, 1845; Hymns, Original and Selected, 1850; Hymns of Faith and Hope, three series, 1857, 1861, 1866. It is not necessary to annotate them any further than this, for the dates of composition have not been preserved, and the very place is generally unknown to the author, who seems to shrink, with much sensitiveness, from any reference to his own share in their production.

A visitor to Dr. Bonar's church (about 1876) has given this pen-portrait of him:

"The striking feature of his face is the large, soft, dark eye, the power of which one feels across the church. There are no bold, rugged lines in his face; but benevolence, peace and sweetness pervade it. The first thought was, 'He is just like his hymns—not great, but tender, sweet and tranquil.' And everything he did and said carried out this impression. His prayer was as simple as a child's. His voice was low, quiet, and impressive. His address, for it could scarcely be called a sermon, was founded on the words, 'The Spirit and the Bride say. Come!' 'the last invitation in the Bible.' It was marked by the absence of all attempt at originality, which is to an American so striking a feature of most foreign preaching. It was simply an invitation—warm, loving, urgent. His power over the audience was complete. Even the children looked steadily in his face; once he paused in his discourse and addressed himself especially to the Sunday-school children who sat by themselves on one side of the pulpit. I was sure the little ones never heard the Good Shepherd's call more tenderly given. With one of the most winning faces I ever saw he closed:'Whosoever—that includes you—whosoever will—does that include you?'"

From English Hymns: Their Authors and History by Samuel Willoughby Duffield. New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1886.

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