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One of Scotland’s most earnest soul-winners was also its greatest hymnist. He was Horatius Bonar, a name that will be forever cherished by all who are filled with a fervent love for the Saviour and who find that love so beautifully expressed in the spiritual songs of the noble Scotchman.

Like the hymns of Mrs. Alexander, Dr. Bonar wrote his songs for children; but they are so profound and intensely spiritual in their very simplicity they will always satisfy the most mature Christian mind. No matter how old we become, our hearts will ever be stirred as we sing the tender words:

I long to be like Jesus,

Meek, loving, lowly, mild;

I long to be like Jesus,

The Father’s holy Child.

I long to be with Jesus,

Amid the heavenly throng,

To sing with saints His praises,

To learn the angels’ song.

The subjective, emotional element is strongly present in the hymns of Bonar. In this respect there is a striking resemblance to the hymns of the great German writer, Benjamin Schmolck. Both use the name “Jesus” freely, and both become daringly intimate, yet the hymns of neither are weak or sentimental.

In Bonar we behold the strange anomaly of a man with 312 a strong physique and powerful intellect combined with the gentle, sympathetic nature of a woman and the simple, confiding faith of a child. The warmth and sincerity of his personal faith in Christ may be seen reflected in all his hymns. “I try to fill my hymns with the love and light of Christ,” he once said, and certainly he has drawn many souls to the Saviour by the tenderness of their appeal.

Bonar is ever pointing in his hymns to Christ as an all-sufficient Saviour, dwelling in simple language on the blessings of the Atonement and the willingness of God to accept all who come to Him through Christ. In these days of modernistic teachings when practically all stress is placed on “living the Christ-life” while the meritorious work of Christ on behalf of the sinner is largely ignored and forgotten, it would be salutary for the Church to listen anew to such words as these:

Upon a Life I have not lived,

Upon a Death I did not die,

Another’s Life; Another’s Death:

I stake my whole eternity.

Not on the tears which I have shed;

Not on the sorrows I have known:

Another’s tears; Another’s griefs:

On them I rest, on them alone.

Jesus, O Son of God, I build

On what Thy cross has done for me;

There both my death and life I read;

My guilt, my pardon there I see.

Lord, I believe; O deal with me

As one who has Thy Word believed!

I take the gift, Lord, look on me

As one who has Thy gift received.


Bonar was born in Edinburgh, December 19, 1808. His father was a lawyer, but he came from a long line of eminent Scottish ministers. His mother was a gentle, pious woman, and it was largely through her influence that her three sons, John, Horatius and Andrew, entered the ministry of the Church of Scotland. Andrew became a noted Bible commentator.

After completing his course at the University of Edinburgh, Horatius began mission work in Leith, under Rev. James Lewis. In one of the most squalid parts of the city he conducted services and Sunday school in a hall. The children did not seem to enjoy singing the Psalm paraphrases, which were still exclusively used by the Church of Scotland at that late date, and therefore Bonar decided to write songs of his own. Like Luther, he chose happy tunes familiar to the children, and wrote words to fit them. His first two hymns were “I lay my sins on Jesus” and “The morning, the bright and beautiful morning.” Still others were “I was a wandering sheep” and “A few more years shall roll.” Needless to say, the children sang and enjoyed them.

At this time, also, he wrote his first hymn for adults, “Go, labor on! Spend and be spent!” It was intended to encourage those who were working with him among the poor of his district.

After four years Bonar was ordained as a minister of the Church of Scotland, assuming charge of a new church at Kelso. He was a man of prayer, and his first sermon to his people was an exhortation to prayer. It is said that a young servant in his home was converted by his prayers. Hearing his earnest supplications from his locked study, she thought: “If he needs to pray so much, what will become of me, if I do not pray!”


Many stories are related of his methods of dealing with seeking souls. A young man who was troubled by a grievous sin came to Bonar for help. The latter told him that God was willing to forgive and that the blood of Jesus His Son cleanseth from all sin. The despairing young man seemed unable to believe the gospel message, however, and continually reminded Bonar of the greatness of his transgression. Finally an inspiration came to the pastor. “Tell me,” he demanded, “which is of greater weight in the eyes of God—your sin, black as it is, or the blood of Jesus, shed for sinners?” Light dawned on the soul of the troubled young man, and he cried joyfully, “Oh, I am sure the blood of Jesus weighs more heavily than even my sin!” And so he found peace.

Bonar was a man of boundless energy. When he was not preaching, he was writing hymns or tracts or books. One of his tracts, “Believe and Live,” was printed in more than a million copies, and the late Queen Victoria of England was much blessed by it. His hymns number about 600, and the fact that at least 100 are in common use today is a testimonial to their worth. Dr. Bonar never used his hymns in his own church worship, but when, on a certain occasion near the close of his life, he broke the rule, two of his elders showed their emphatic disapproval by walking out of church.

Perhaps the finest hymn we have received from his pen, if we except “I lay my sins on Jesus,” is “I heard the voice of Jesus say.” Other familiar hymns are “Thy works, not mine, O Christ,” “Not what my hands have done,” “Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power,” “All that I was, my sin, my guilt,” “Thy way, not mine, O Lord,” and “A few more years shall roll.”

In 1843 Dr. Bonar married Miss Jane Lundie, and for 315 forty years they shared joy and sorrow. She, too, was a gifted writer, and it is she who has given us the beautiful gem, “Fade, fade, each earthly joy.”

Sorrow was one of the means used by the Lord to enrich and mellow the life of Bonar. Five of his children died in early years. It required much of divine grace in such experiences to write lines like these:

Spare not the stroke; do with us as Thou wilt;

Let there be naught unfinished, broken, marred.

Complete Thy purpose, that we may become

Thy perfect image, O our God and Lord.

Bonar himself was sorely afflicted during the last two years of his life. He died in 1889, deeply mourned by all Scotland as well as by Christians throughout the world who had come to know him through his tracts and hymns. At his funeral one of his own hymns was sung. It was written on the theme of his family motto, “Heaven at Last.”

What a city! what a glory!

Far beyond the brightest story

Of the ages old and hoary:

Ah, ’tis heaven at last!

Christ Himself the living splendor,

Christ the sunlight mild and tender;

Praises to the Lamb we render:

Ah, ’tis heaven at last!

Now, at length, the veil is rended,

Now the pilgrimage is ended,

And the saints their thrones ascended:

Ah, ’tis heaven at last!

Broken death’s dread bands that bound us,

Life and victory around us;

Christ, the King, Himself hath crowned us;

Ah, ’tis heaven at last!

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