“Round the cross”: Bonar and the Centrality of the Cross

“Round the cross”: Bonar and the Centrality of the Cross

Horatius Bonar (1808-1889) was no handsome man but he was a fantastic writer. Few, if any, writers in church history have better fixated their extended attention upon the beauty of the Cross of Christ. And so I was very excited to learn that Bonar’s massive compilation of works are published electronically by Lux Publications.

The following quote showcases Bonar’s ability to point out falsehood and point the church back to the Cross as the center of its life. Christians are “men alive from the dead” with a message about bloody propitiation and legal transference of guilt. Let the church build around and hold fast to this truth!

Bonar’s words are a good corrective to an age of church-ianity that tends to center around everything but the bloody Cross.

The Errors Of The Age, by Horatius Bonar (published in 1870)

Transfer the divine element to creation at large, you have pantheism; to images of brass or stone, you have idolatry; to the priest or the church, you have Romanism; to forms, and rites, and sacraments, and you have Ritualism; to the visible things of the senses, and you have materialism; to the invisibilities of disembodied spirits, and you have spiritualism; to the intellect, and you have rationalism; to the fancy, and you have religious pictorialism; to the feelings, and you have religious sentimentalism; transfer it to man, simply as man, and you have the last form of Antichrist, — the de-thronization of the divine, the enthronization of the human, the rejection of the God-Man, and the exaltation of a man into His place as the only Messiah of the race, the world’s only Redeemer and King.

Most subtle is the error that would have us deal with religious truth as a mere bundle of abstractions, or ideas, or speculations, of which every man is at liberty to form his own opinion. The essence of the Bible, the Alpha and Omega of revelation, is not truth alone, nor religion alone, but Christianity, a Christianity which is not presented to us merely as the communication of doctrines, but as the settlement of the great personal question between the sinner and God, the solution of the difficulty which law and conscience necessarily raise as to righteousness and grace.

And what is Christianity? Not metaphysics, not mysticism, not a compilation of guesses at truth. It is the history of the seed of the woman, — that seed the Word made flesh: — the Word made flesh the revelation of the invisible Jehovah, the representative of the eternal God, the medium of communication between the Creator and the creature, between earth and heaven.

And of this Christianity, what is the essential characteristic, the indispensable feature from first to last? Is it incarnation or bloodshedding? Is it the cradle or the cross? Is it the scene at Bethlehem or at Golgotha? Assuredly the latter! Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani, is no mere outcry of suffering nature, the cross is no mere scene of human martyrdom, and the great sepulcher is no mere Hebrew tomb. It is only through bloodshedding that conscience is purged; it is only at the cross that the sinner can meet with God; it is the cross that knits heaven and earth together; it is the cross that bears up the collapsing universe; it is the pierced hand that holds the golden sceptre; it is at Calvary that we find the open gate of Paradise regained, and the Gospel is good news to the sinner, of liberty to enter in.

Let men, with the newly sharpened axes of rationalism, do their utmost to hew down that cross; it will stand in spite of them. Let them apply their ecclesiastical paint-brush, and daub it all over with the most approved of mediaeval pigments to cover its nakedness, its glory will shine through all. Let them scoff at the legal transference of the sinner’s guilt to a divine substitute, and of that Surety’s righteousness to the sinner, as a Lutheran delusion, or a Puritan fiction, that mutual transference, that wondrous exchange, will be found to be wrapped up with Christianity itself. Let those who, like Cain of old, shrink from the touch of sacrificial blood, and mock the ‘religion of the shambles,’ purge their consciences with the idea of God’s universal Fatherhood, and try to wash their robes and make them white in something else than the blood of the Lamb; to us, as to the saints of other days, there is but one purging of the conscience, one security for pardon, one way of access, one bond of reconciliation, one healing of our wounds, the death of Him on whom the chastisement of our peace was laid, and one everlasting song, ‘unto him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.’

… It is round the cross of God that all truth revolves; and hence all error connected either with His person or His work must be perilous. The revelation of the cross begins at the beginning, and sweeps round a vast circle. It takes up the whole question between the sinner and God, and gives judgment upon every part of it. It condemns man and justifies God. It pronounces authoritatively both as to the way of life and the way of death.

It does not accept earnestness as a substitute for truth, nor a justification or extenuation of error. It does not show man how to lay the foundation of the great settlement for eternity; it lays the foundation, and presents us with everything on God’s side, as finished. It begins by announcing what God has done, before it says one word of what man is to do; it shows us God as the doer and the giver, man as the receiver, setting aside unsparingly every religion and every doctrine which would make man, either in whole or in part, his own Saviour; or which would make worship or service a thing of proxy, and shift the personality and the responsibility of the great transaction between the soul and God, to a priest, or a minister, or a church, or a ceremony, or a sacrament, or a creed.

Thus it is that through the belief of God’s testimony to the great propitiation, we are not only justified, but we know, we are assured, that we are; and thus it is, that through the simple reception of the glad tidings, all the gladness which they contain is transferred to us. Believing, we rejoice, we are saved, we have everlasting life.

The revelation of ‘the Christ’ embraces in it the revelation of the church in Him, as His temple, His body, His bride, His present witness on earth, and the watcher for His return in glory. This church, even on earth, is no mere association of men holding certain opinions, — no mere corporation favoured with certain privileges, — but a body chosen and called out of a world of darkness. Its legislation is divine, not human; its laws are not its own ideas of expediency and order, but the commandments of its head. The essence of its constitution is not socialism, nor republicanism, nor despotism, nor anarchy, but an unearthly organization, founded on entire subjection to its heavenly head; an organization working itself out in order, unity, growth, fruitfulness, love, and zeal. Its ministers are not philosophers, nor lecturers, nor theorists, nor humourists, nor orators, nor priests, but messengers of God’s free love, expositors of the word, shepherds of the flock, and executors of government and discipline. Its members are not politicians, nor lovers of pleasure, nor worshippers of gold, nor men who are trying to make the best of both worlds, but men alive from the dead, through the power of the Holy Ghost; possessors of a heavenly peace, bearers of a cross, yet heirs of a kingdom; strangers upon the earth, yet citizens of the New Jerusalem, which cometh down from God out of heaven.

…It is truth that makes us free, for all error is bondage. If, then, you would be freemen, grasp the truth tenaciously, bravely, calmly; bind it round you as a girdle, treasure it in your heart of hearts. ‘Buy the truth and sell it not;’ that is, get it at any cost, part with it never. Error is sin, for which every man shall give an account to God; and sin is no mere mischance or misfortune that claims pity only, but not condemnation nor punishment; else what means the fiery law? What means the cross of the sin-bearer? What means the great white throne? What means the everlasting fire? ‘Stand, therefore, having your loins girt about with truth,’ remembering your high calling as witnesses for the truth and the True One. Let neither your words nor your lives give any uncertain sound. Every man to whom the Bible comes is responsible for believing all the truth which that revelation proclaims, and for rejecting all the error which it condemns. Cleave, then, to the Word of the living God; and sit, as teachable disciples, at the feet of Him who has said, Learn of me.

Horatius Bonar, The Christian Treasury in The Life and Works of Horatius Bonar (CD-Rom, Lux Publications) pp. 1207-1212. (Posted with permission from publisher.)

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