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Horatius Bonar

Horatius Bonar

Horatius Bonar (1808 - 1889)

Bonar has been called “the prince of Scot­tish hymn write­rs.” After grad­u­at­ing from the Un­i­ver­si­ty of Ed­in­burgh, he was or­dained in 1838, and be­came pas­tor of the North Par­ish, Kelso. He joined the Free Church of Scot­land af­ter the “Dis­rupt­ion” of 1843, and for a while edit­ed the church’s The Border Watch. Bonar re­mained in Kel­so for 28 years, af­ter which he moved to the Chal­mers Me­mor­i­al church in Edin­burgh, where he served the rest of his life. Bonar wrote more than 600 hymns.

He was a voluminous and highly popular author. He also served as the editor for "The Quarterly journal of Prophecy" from 1848 to 1873 and for the "Christian Treasury" from 1859 to 1879. In addition to many books and tracts wrote a number of hymns, many of which, e.g., "I heard the voice of Jesus say" and "Blessing and Honour and Glory and Power," became known all over the English-speaking world. A selection of these was published as Hymns of Faith and Hope (3 series). His last volume of poetry was My Old Letters. Bonar was also author of several biographies of ministers he had known, including "The Life of the Rev. John Milne of Perth" in 1869, - and in 1884 "The Life and Works of the Rev. G. T. Dodds", who had been married to Bonar's daughter and who had died in 1882 while serving as a missionary in France.


Horatius Bonar comes from a long line of ministers who have served a total of 364 years in the Church of Scotland.

He entered the Ministry of the Church of Scotland. At first he was put in charge of mission work at St. John's parish in Leith and settled at Kelso. He joined the Free Church at the time of the Disruption of 1843, and in 1867 was moved to Edinburgh to take over the Chalmers Memorial Church (named after his teacher at college, Dr. Thomas Chalmers). In 1883, he was elected Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

He was a voluminous and highly popular author. He also served as the editor for "The Quarterly journal of Prophecy" from 1848 to 1873 and for the "Christian Treasury" from 1859 to 1879. In addition to many books and tracts wrote a number of hymns, many of which, e.g., "I heard the voice of Jesus say" and "Blessing and Honor and Glory and Power," became known all over the English-speaking world.

      Horatius Bonar, had a passionate heart for revival and was a friend and supporter of several revivalists, He was brother to the more well-known Andrew Bonar, and with him defended D. L. Moody's evangelistic ministry in Scotland. He authored a couple of excellent revival works, one including over a hundred biographical sketches and the other an addendum to Rev. John Gillies' 'Historical Collections...' bringing it up to date.

      He was a powerful soul-winner and is well qualified to pen this brief, but illuminating study of the character of true revivalists.

      Horatius was in fact one of eleven children, and of these an older brother, John James, and a younger, Andrew, also became ministers and were all closely involved, together with Thomas Chalmers, William C. Burns and Robert Murray M'Cheyne, in the important spiritual movements which affected many places in Scotland in the 1830s and 1840s.

      In the controversy known as the "Great Disruption," Horatius stood firmly with the evangelical ministers and elders who left the Church of Scotland's General Assembly in May 1843 and formed the new Free Church of Scotland. By this time he had started to write hymns, some of which appeared in a collection he published in 1845, but typically, his compositions were not named. His gifts for expressing theological truths in fluent verse form are evident in all his best-known hymns, but in addition he was also blessed with a deep understanding of doctrinal principles.

      Examples of the hymns he composed on the fundamental doctrines include, "Glory be to God the Father".....on the Trinity. "0 Love of God, how strong and true".....on Redemption. "Light of the world," - "Rejoice and be glad" - "Done is the work" on the Person and Work of Christ. "Come Lord and tarry not," on His Second Coming, while the hymn "Blessed be God, our God!" conveys a sweeping survey of Justification and Sanctification.

      In all this activity, his pastoral work and preaching were never neglected and after almost twenty years labouring in the Scottish Borders at Kelso, Bonar moved back to Edinburgh in 1866 to be minister at the Chalmers Memorial Chapel (now renamed St. Catherine's Argyle Church). He continued his ministry for a further twenty years helping to arrange D.L. Moody's meetings in Edinburgh in 1873 and being appointed moderator of the Free Church ten years later. His health declined by 1887, but he was approaching the age of eighty when he preached in his church for the last time, and he died on 31 May 1889.

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