10 quotes from Horatius Bonar’s “The Everlasting Righteousness.”
Excerpts from one of the best treatments of sola fide.
To be honest, it took me longer than anticipated when whittling down this list to a mere ten quotes. As you may know, my affections for Dr. Horatius Bonar and his theological oeuvre run deep. His writings have always served me well, enriching me in an abundance of ways and prompting none too few posts on this here blog. Reading his book, The Story of Grace, was in every sense of the phrase a spiritual catharsis for me as a young theologian, and remains, to this day, my absolute favorite grace-laden treatise out of all the books I’ve ever read on the subject.
But I’m not here to talk about that book — I’m here to entice you into reading his book The Everlasting Righteousness: or, How Shall Man Be Just With God? by sharing the following excerpts from a work which remains, perhaps, one of the best treatments of sola fide (faith alone) in published form. May you be blessed by this selection of quotes. (As usual, I’ll add a comment or two as I see fit along the way.)
1: On the one word tetelestai, “It is finished,” as on a heavenly resting-place, weary souls sat down and were refreshed. The voice from the tree did not summon them do, but to be satisfied with what was done. (iii)
Jesus’s words from the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30), ought to be the rallying cry for believers everywhere. These are the timeless words of grace, which announce that all is done, all is accomplished because of Another.
2: We are never done with the cross, nor ever shall be. Its wonders will be always new, and be always fraught with joy. (61)
3: At no time in the saint’s life does he cease to need the cross. (117)
Central to Dr. Bonar’s treatise is the notion that the sinner who’s been saved by grace ought never move away from or beyond the cross. The cross’s righteousness is, indeed, the righteousness which saves everlastingly. Why, then, are we so prone to assuming we need something else to make us “better”? The cross is our hope. Our lifeline. Our lifeblood, literally. The life of a saint, therefore, is a cruciform life, as it is spent mining the fathomless depths of the cross and what was secured for us there.
4: If anything else besides this finished work is to justify, then Christ has died in vain. (54)
This is how we live, isn’t it? We live as though there’s something more than what Christ did that needs our doing. It gets at what Paul says in Galatians about “frustrating the grace of God” (Gal. 2:21) and rendering his grace null and void (Rom. 6:11). That’s what we’re doing when we think God’s sovereign redemption needs our input.
5: We do not life a holy life in order to be justified; but we are justified that we may live a holy life. (181)
This, I think, is how many Christians live. They function as if justification is the carrot dangling at the end of the stick of sanctification. As if their efforts in “holy living” move the justification meter any iota. Which is patently false. Our “holiness” is nothing but filthy rags (Isa. 64:6). Any good that we do or exhibit is only the byproduct of the Spirit implanting the goodness of God deeper into our hearts, minds, and souls. We live holy lives only by being imputed a holy life. Speaking of which . . .
6: We believe, He imputes; and the whole transaction is done. (72)
7: The things that He did not do were laid to His charge, and He was treated as if He had done them all; so the things that He did do are put to our account, and we are treated by God as if we had done them all. (84)
The doctrine of double imputation — the tenet of Christianity which says that Christ took our sins from us and replaced them with his righteousness — is, perhaps, the most scandalous of all the tenets of the cross. It’s been referred to by saints of old as the “happy exchange,” and, indeed, what could be happier than the central fact of the gospel, wherein we are made totally righteous precisely because the one “who knew no sin” was made “to be sin for us” (2 Cor. 5:21). If you’re still uncertain about imputation, Bonar goes even further:
8: All that makes Him precious and dear to the Father has been transferred to me. His excellency and glory are seen as if they were mine; and I receive the love, and the fellowship, and the glory, as if I had earned them all. So entirely one am I with the sin-bearer, that God treats me not merely as I had not done the evil that I have done; but as if I had done all the good which I have not done, but which my substitute has done. In one sense I am still the poor sinner, once under wrath; in another I am altogether righteous, and shall be so for ever, because of the Perfect One, in whose perfection I appear before God. Nor is this a false pretence or a hollow fiction, which carries no results or blessings with it. It is an exchange which has been provided by the Judge, and sanctioned by the law; an exchange of which any sinner upon earth may avail himself and be blest. (45)
What else is there to do after that but worship? Praise this One, from whom all blessings flow!
9: From the moment that we receive the divine testimony to the righteousness of the Son of God, all the guilt that was on us passes over to Him, and all His righteousness passes over to us; so that God looks on us as possessed of that righteousness, and treats us according to its value in His sight. (71)
You and I don’t have to wait around to progress in holiness to receive the righteousness that the Son offers. He gives that to us once, upon repentance and belief in his passion and death. At the moment of faith, we are given “all things that pertain unto life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3).
10: Faith does not come to Calvary to do anything. It comes to see the glorious spectacle of all things done . . . Faith is the acknowledgment of the entire absence of all goodness in us, and the recognition of the cross as the substitute for all the want on our part. Faith saves, because it owns the complete salvation of another, and not because it contributes anything to that salvation. There is no dividing or sharing the work between our own belief and Him in whom we believe. The whole work is His, not ours, from first to last. Faith does not believe in itself, but in the Son of God. Like the beggar, it receives everything, but gives nothing. It consents to be a debtor for ever to the free love of God. (116–17)
Among the many outstanding passages in Bonar’s The Everlasting Righteousness, the ones that resonate with me the most are his extended discussions on the nature of faith and the certainty of sola fide. The above excerpt gets at the heart of what means to believe in faith alone for one’s salvation. Namely, it’s the belief in something done. Something accomplished. Sola Fide remains forever the bastion of my hope because it tells me that there’s nothing left to do. All was done in Christ. “It is finished,” he cried. And that’s the best news I’ve ever heard.
Grace and peace.
Horatius Bonar, The Everlasting Righteousness: or, How Shall Man Be Just With God? (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1993).