The online Bible teaching ministry of John Brand

Andrew Bonar: Passion for the Jewish People

Here’s this week’s inspirational delve into the past by Paul James-Griffiths of Christian Heritage Edinburgh

In the Gospels we find the two brothers James and John together for Christ’s cause; in Scottish church history it is Revd Andrew Bonar (1810-1892) and his brother Revd Horatius Bonar (1808-1889) who stand out. These brothers were key leaders behind the hugely successful Scottish preaching tour of the American evangelist D.L. Moody, and both had a burning zeal for the gospel of salvation. Horatius is particularly known for his prolific hymn-writing, producing favourites like I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say, and Blessing and Honour and Glory and Power.

Andrew Bonar was selected by the General Assembly, along with his friend Revd Robert Murray McCheyne, and Dr Alexander Keith and Dr Alexander Black, Professor of Theology at Marischal College in Aberdeen, to represent the Church of Scotland as a “Commission of Enquiry” into the state of the Jewish people. Since the Reformation a love for the Jewish people had been revived in the newly founded Church of Scotland. For example, we can find a marginal note for Romans 11:15 in the Geneva Bible, published in 1560, which says, “it will come to pass that when the Jews come to the Gospel, the world will as it were come to life again, and rise from death to life.” In the Directory for the Public Worship of God, which was the first document produced by the Westminster Assembly in 1644, the ministers were instructed to pray “for the propagation of the gospel and kingdom to all nations; for the conversion of the Jews, the fullness of the Gentiles, the fall of Antichrist, and the hastening of the second coming of our Lord.” The Covenanters, despite undergoing terrible suffering for the cause of Christ in Scotland, were ever-mindful of God’s promises to the Jewish people.

In April 1839, the four Presbyterian leaders left Dover, embarking on a fact-compiling expedition in eastern and central Europe, as well as in what was then called Palestine. It was Andrew Bonar and Robert Murray McCheyne who co-wrote the influential Narrative of a Mission of Inquiry to the Jews from the Church of Scotland in 1839. This book was distributed widely on both sides of the Atlantic in 1842, causing a groundswell of evangelical support for the Jewish people. Both Dr Keith and Dr Black had to return home to Scotland early because of ill health at Beirut, but Bonar and M’Cheyne pressed on. Their most special experience was approaching Jerusalem and the book is a wealth of information about the Jewish people of this period living in Palestine and Europe. It was their information which was critical in preparing the Church of Scotland to send out its first mission party to the most open Jewish people in Budapest, Hungary, in 1840. Their report caused such a stir that they could state, “Both in the towns and rural parishes of Scotland, a deep and we trust Scriptural interest has been excited in behalf of Israel; an interest which has penetrated to the very poorest of our people.”

Both Bonar brothers were keenly involved in the Disruption of 1843, when hundreds of ministers, and all of the missionaries, except for one, left the Church of Scotland over the interference and State control of the church, which led to the foundation of the Free Church of Scotland. Just as their ancestors had stood for the covenants of the Scottish reformers, and the National Covenant (1638) and Solemn League and Covenant (1643), now it was the turn of this generation of Presbyterians to stand for their Reformation constitution. Just as King Josiah had stood for the covenant before God in the Jewish temple so long ago (2 Kings 23:1-3), now the Bonars, alongside their fellow Presbyterians, “took a stand for the covenant” of 1843, in the form of the Act of Separation and Deed of Demission. Leaving behind their churches, schools, homes and salaries, which belonged to the Church of Scotland, they stood for the sake of Christ and conscience, and God miraculously provided for them.

For if their [the Jewish people] being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” (Romans 11:15, NKJV).

Image: Revd Andrew Bonar (1810-1892), a contemporary photograph, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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