Horatius Bonar. The Everlasting Righteousness. Banner of Truth, 1993. 211 pp.
Bonar’s book, which bears the alternate title, How Shall Man Be Just With God?, is a helpful exposition of the doctrine of justification. It is written in a non-technical, devotional style so that Christians of all levels may read it with intellectual and spiritual profit. Written in the tradition of the Reformation doctrine of justification, this book sets forth the perfect righteousness of Christ as the only “relief of conscience” and acceptance with God for the needy sinner (iii). This doctrine concerns not only man’s initiation into a right relationship with God, but also his sanctification and progress in such a state, both of which are accomplished by the same thing-the substitutionary righteousness of the cross of Christ (iv).
The book is divided into ten chapters: (1) God’s Answer to Man’s Question, (2) God’s Recognition of Substitution, (3) The Completeness of the Substitution, (4) The Declaration of the Completeness, (5) Righteousness for the Unrighteous, (6) The Righteousness of God Reckoned to Us, (7) Not Faith, But Christ, (8), What the Resurrection of the Substitute Has Done, (9) The Pardon and the Peace Made Sure, and (10) The Holy Life of the Justified. This progression demonstrates that from start to finish the righteousness of Christ through substitution is central to the Christian experience.
The question that everyone must answer is how a person can be right with God (1). The answers given are usually shallow, primarily because man does not realize the awesome majesty of God or the wretchedness of his own depravity (2). Both God’s law and love find their full satisfaction in a beautiful harmony by providing a solution to man’s problem that is not to be found anywhere else. Far from lessening the demands of the law in view of His love, God has satisfied them both so that the law “has come to be upon the sinner’s side” rather than his condemner (13).
The way that this resolution has taken place is by means of a substitute (14). Man must not subject God to his understanding of fairness in this matter (15). The OT sacrifices were pictures of the substitutionary work that Christ would perform (20). Efficacy was inherent in the sacrifice. One’s faith was not what insured the results, but the value of the sacrifice offered in his stead (23). The sinner’s faith must not be introspective; rather he must fix his gaze on the accomplishments of Christ (25).
The substitution that Christ wrought for sinners was far more extensive than just the last hours before His death (26). His whole life was about saving His people, which is clear from the very meaning of His name. His birth, circumcision, baptism, and ever other part of His life and ministry was a vicarious representation of His people (28-29). The sins of men were not just upon Christ at the cross, but he bore them “up to the cross as well” (32). The sorrow that Jesus expressed in the garden was a result of the sin that he bore (36). Upon the cross this work was finished. The burial and resurrection were not part of completing this work, but rather the demonstration that it had already been completed (37). Thus Christ’s present work is done on the basis of His already accomplished cross work-a work which will remain central for all eternity (62).
The substitutionary work is essentially a work of righteousness. The shortcomings of our unrighteousness He took upon Himself, so that the merits of His righteousness might be ours. By “simply . . . believing” this righteousness becomes the sinner’s. This “faith is no work, nor merit, nor effort” but rather “the cessation from all these” (74).
This righteousness belongs to the sinner immediately upon believing (83). It is his, not in experience, but in legal standing, granted to him through imputation (83). God deals with the believing sinner in terms of His Son, having dealt with His Son in terms of the believing sinner (86). Though this is a juridical transaction, it is nonetheless a real one (97). The essence of this imputation boils down to “a transference of liabilities,” not of character (101).
Though faith is that which brings us into the experience of this righteousness, it is nonetheless Christ rather than faith that actually saves (107). Faith itself is not our righteousness; Christ is. The excellency of the faith does not guarantee the result of acceptance, but the excellency of the sacrifice (110). Faith is the means; Christ is the basis. Faith “does not come to Calvary to do” but to rest in what Christ has done (116).
Bonar takes some noteworthy positions on various subjects. Not only was man reconciled to God, but God was also reconciled to man (7). Christ’s was in our stead, as our substitute, throughout His whole life, bearing our guilt as early as the manger (33). The resurrection was the declaration of the completion of our justification rather than the basis of it (41). The believer’s faith is imputed to him “in order to (eivj) righteousness . . . but not as righteousness” (107). There are a few times were the strong emphasis on the freeness of salvation received by faith alone appears to border on “easy-believism.” For example, faith “does not work, but accepts a work done ages ago” (112). The point is a valid one, but it can appear to be in tension with the biblical teaching of both Paul and James who stress the fact that faith does work. Elsewhere we read that this faith “is really nothing but our consenting to be saved by another” (109). Again, in the context the point is legitimate, but it might be slightly imprecise, because surely faith is more than mental consent to truth, which even the devils possess.
This book is a great read for anyone who wants his heart stirred in mediation upon the glorious truth of imputed righteousness. The discussion is very thought provoking and rich, although it can be sometimes somewhat redundant. There is value in the repetition in that the point is quite clear and memorable, but the danger is that the reader will get tired of hearing the same thing said in multiple ways. In spite of this one critique, I heartily recommend this book.