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Bonar: The Everlasting Righteousness October 20, 2008

Posted by heldveld in Book Reviews, Horatius Bonar.

A nice small book on justification, written in the beautiful yet sometimes harder to understand style of the 1800’s. Bonar writes very logically and makes good points in each chapter as he builds the reader’s understanding of the subject through out the book. The subject of justification is crucial to Christian theology and I benefited greatly from Bonar’s understanding. Following is a summary of his points.

The first chapter sets the stage reminding us of how deep our sin is and how holy and righteous God is. Based on these extremes the only option, and the option provided by God, is for us to fully rely on him for pardon.

The second chapter moves to show how God has set up the substitution of Christ as the means of our obtaining justification and pardon. Bonar walks us through the OT sacrifices and shows how they are shadows of the final sacrifice provided for us through Jesus.

The completeness of the substitution is the subject of chapter three. There are basically two points in this chapter. One that Jesus in suffering through his life on earth bore the total weight of our sin and two that his death on the cross was enough to provide justification. He points to Jesus’ words ‘It is finished’ to show that the saving work was done. The events following his death (resurrection, etc.) show that his justifying work was accepted by God. Chapter four complements the thoughts here by digging deeper into the declaration of the completeness.

Bonar then moves on to the subject of righteousness for the unrighteous showing from OT and NT passages how it is God that always provides for the righteousness of his people.  Man can only rely on the sacrifice of Jesus to be seen as righteous. This righteousness comes as free gift of faith.

‘Righteousness of God Reckoned to Us’ is the subject of the sixth chapter which details the Biblical idea of imputation by looking at several OT and NT examples. The he makes two really poignant points in this chapter. First that us needing Christ’s righteousness shows how righteous and holy God is and how sin cannot be tolerated. We need the perfect imputed righteousness to stand before God. The second point is that if Christ’s death was not to obtain our righteousness it represents a complete failure of God. God would then be helpless to defend a ‘perfect moral example’ and not in complete control of his creation.

In the next he makes the distinction between faith and Christ’s work. He first draws out the distinction between the object (Christ) and the act (faith). Showing how the object is required and without it the act means nothing. He then shows how our faith is imperfect and not what God accepts as righteousness. A great chapter all in all really expounding the wonderful gospel and how we are saved through by faith but only through God’s grace in offering to accept us through Christ’s righteousness.

Chapter 8 titled “What the Resurrection of the Substitute has Done” reminds us that while the sacrifice is what provides justification the resurrection must not be forgotten. It provides proof of the sufficiency of the sacrifice.

After building the case for justification through faith in Christ he applies the truth to the doctrine of assurance. He explains the beauty of the doctrine by comparing it to works based salvation and particular doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. It’s wonderful to remember that we are in fact saved by our faith and have this assurance, in Christ we can be sure that he provides for us. This assurance brings the glory to God and the work of Christ.  There is no glory for our works.

The final chapter ‘The Holy Life of the Justified’ brings it all together in a practical application. He shows how our obedience comes from thankfulness and love for God instead of efforts to please him. That true holiness is loving God not depriving ourselves or other outward expressions. I think so many people still miss this wonderful part of justification. Many still seem to think that we need some kind of additional motivation. Yet what could be more of a motivator than thinking of God’s gracious love and the truly great sacrifice that Christ performed on our behalf? No works are needed, his yoke is easy once you are convinced by the Holy Spirit of this great gift you life does become holy.

Highly recommended.

It is available from Reformation Heritage Books



1. Derek Ashton - November 28, 2008


I read this book a few years ago, it is wonderful! Everything you said about it is true. Horatius Bonar also wrote some powerful hymns.

I wonder, in light of your final paragraph, how does 2 Cor. 5:9 fit in? Aren’t we to strive to please God out of our sense of gratitude and wonder over HIs grace? I suppose it may be a matter of semantics, but that last paragraph brought this verse to mind. I do see your point, that our holy living must be rooted in an appreciation of justification – that it must be grace-motivated obedience, not self-righteous works done in order to make God “happy.” He is already pleased with us in Christ. But, paradoxically, we still strive to please Him, don’t we?

2. heldveld - December 1, 2008


Thanks for the comment.

2 Corinthians 5:9 (New International Version)
9So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.

Maybe, I should have stated things a bit differently as I do believe that it does please God when ‘good’ things are done from a proper motivation. My meaning was more as to earn his favor towards our justification.

So yes I do believe that we strive to please him and it comes about from our sanctification, as you say God is already pleased with us through Christ. Further, I believe that the yoke is easy because serving one we love is easy, not because there is nothing for us to do.

3. theoparadox - December 1, 2008


Amen. Good clarification. I’m enjoying your site!


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