Martin Luther once said, “This article of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, is the head and cornerstone of the church, which alone begets, nourishes, builds, preserves and protects the church. Without it, the church of God cannot subsist but one hour.” He was not overstating this fact. At the heart of biblical Christianity stands the doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ alone. And no Top Ten list of books is complete without volume on this great doctrine.
Today, God’s grace has provided Christians with growing depository of excellent books on this issue. The God Who Justifies by James R. White comes to mind, and R.C. Sproul, John Piper and C.J. Mahaney have also contributed excellent contemporary works. But I am frequently drawn back to Horatius Bonar’s brief and devotional work.
Written in 1874 and republished by The Banner of Truth in 1993, The Everlasting Righteousness stands (in my opinion) as the greatest book on the importance of the Cross and our imputed righteousness. It is clear, concise, devotional and beautifully written.
So what does Bonar mean by the phrase, The Everlasting Righteousness?
“We are hidden in Christ. God seeks for us; and when at last He discovers us in our hiding-place, it is not we that He finds, but Christ; so complete is the exchange of persons, so perfect and so glorious the disguise. Yet is is not a disguise which shall ever be taken off, nor of which shall have cause to be ashamed. It remains ours for ever. It is an everlasting righteousness” (pp. 79-80).
For Bonar, however, the importance of the Cross extends beyond the Christian’s conversion. Justification ushers in a Cross-centered life for today and an eternal Cross-centered life to come. This emphasis on the Cross-centered life is where Bonar really shines:
“… never shall the redeemed be independent of the cross, or cease to draw from its fulness” (p. 64).
“The broken body and shed blood of the Son of God form the viands on which we feast; and it is under the shadow of the cross that we sit down to partake of these, and find refreshment for our daily journey, strength for our hourly warfare. His flesh is meat indeed, His blood is drink indeed” (p. 125).
And my favorite quote: “Christ crucified is to be the burden of our preaching, and the substance of our belief, from first to last. At no time in the saint’s life does he cease to need the Cross” (p. 117). The Christian faith and life centers around the Cross. There are no comparable substitutes. We NEED the Cross at every point. (And wouldn’t our lives and sermons be improved if we frequently used the phrase, “need the Cross”?)
Dwelling upon justification as crucial for the Christian life, John Bunyan once wrote, “Think not that to live always on Christ for justification is a low and beggarly thing, – a staying at the foundation. For, let me tell you, depart from a sense of the meritorious means of your justification before God, and you will quickly grow light, and frothy, and vain.”
Because Bonar is clear on the doctrine of justification, he is also clear on related issues like the ugliness and reality of sin, the illustrations of biblical imputation, the necessity of a blood sacrifice and the dangers of wrong views of justification.
If you are looking for a readable book that exalts the Cross-centered life, relishes in the righteousness found only in the substitution of the Lamb, and magnifies the worth and beauty of Christ, turn to a talented hymn writer. Horatius Bonar has given us a clear book of great value on the central doctrine of the church. His poetic style will warm the heart after multiple readings and his clarity will equip the preacher with a lifetime of precious quotes.
The beauty of The Everlasting Righteousness is that it will hold us to our foundation and keep our hearts from growing frothy and vain.
The Everlasting Righteousness, Horatius Bonar, Banner of Truth, 1874/1993, 0851516556, paperback, 212 pages