Horatius Bonar on the Purpose of God In Creation

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Reformed theology has always posited that God’s purpose in creating the universe was not out of necessity. What I mean is that God never had to create the universe. There wasn’t something missing within him that necessitated a creation. Paul affirms this in Acts 17:4, that “God is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything“. Within his own being then, God is completely free and independent.

So then, the question that has plagued many: why then did God create the universe? Horatius Bonar answers this question rightly I believe. He explains God’s purpose as revelatory, or expressive. Namely, that God created all things for the display of his own glory. God, in an overflow of his triune being, desired to create a world in which he could express the fullness of his attributes.

Bonar explains this concept further. He says,

God’s purpose…is self-manifestation, or self-revelation. It is to bear testimony to His own character. Creation in every form, animate or inanimate, is God’s witness; the utterance of His mind and heart. His design is not merely to make known that He is, but what he is; to exhibit Himself the I AM, the Being of beings, in whom all being is wrapped up, and from whom all forms of being spring; to unbosom and reveal Himself fully and perfectly; not partially and in glimpses, but completely and abidingly; by bringing forth into view and making visible all that is glorious, as well as all that is gracious, in the infinite and invisible Godhead. God does not create a world simply because he can do so, and wishes to put forth his power, but because he desires to bring out to view those riches of his own being and character which had otherwise been hidden. Again, God did not create this earth of ours a fair and happy world at first simply because he loved to see a fair world inhabited by happy creatures, but because, in that beauty and blessedness, his own character was most fully revealed, and his own glory most brightly reflected.

… This earth… is [God’s special place of self-manifestation]. It is here that this process is going on just now, and it is here that preparations are making for larger and brighter scenes of self-manifestation than eye hath yet seen or ear hath heard… The work is still advancing; the plan is not yet consummated; but the rudiments of it lie all before us; the stones of the fabric lie scattered around; and prophecy unfolds to us much regarding the coming consummation, and presents to us in no faint colors the picture of the glorious reality which from the beginning God has had in view, and which shall, before long, be given to the gaze of the universe, as God’s own perfect representation of himself.

… The purpose of self-manifestation develops itself chiefly in connexion with two great events, the first and second advents of Christ. Round these two points all other events cluster. From these two foci all light is radiating, and round them all events revolve. It is only by keeping our eye on these that we can understand the mighty scheme, and enter into the mind of God respecting it, giving to each event its proper place, order, connexion, and value.

Wow. I love this quote. God’s purpose is self-manifestation. It is the demonstration of his glory, or his attributes. Bonar goes on in this third chapter from Prophetical Landmarks to focus on the two advents, and how all of God’s attributes are demonstrated through Jesus’ death/resurrection and second coming. I agree with him, and think Paul does too. God’s purpose is for “the praise of his glorious grace” (Eph 1:6), which is “set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:9b-10).

Jesus’ Sin-bearing Life

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Many assume that the point at which Jesus actually bore our sins was on the cross. And to be sure, this is true. 1 Peter 2:24 tells us that Christ “bore our sins in His body on the tree”. When Jesus uttered, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mt 27:46), it was a declaration that he was dying under the wrath of God as a sinner even though he was “without sin” (Heb 4:16). 

But was this substitutional “sin-bearing” by Jesus limited only on the cross? I don’t think so. I think it was far more comprehensive than that. I think that Jesus’ whole life was one of sin-bearing. That the Christ who was without sin was all at the same time bearing the sins of mankind his entire life.

Isaiah 53 gives a very illustrative glimpse of this. Isaiah says that Jesus “Himself bore our sicknesses, and He carried our pains; but we in turn regarded Him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted” (53:4). And it is not until the next verse that Isaiah speaks of this Servant being pierced for our transgressions. I believe that Isaiah here is pointing to a life of carrying “our pains”, being “afflicted” and outcast for our sake. Isaiah gets even more explicit in 53:7, saying that “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth. Like a lamb led to the slaughter and like a sheep silent before her shearers, He did not open His mouth”. He describes the Messiah as oppressed and afflicted and silent on his way to the slaughter — before the slaughter Christ was afflicted, silent, stricken. 

Matthew gives us a picture of this as well. Matthew 8 has an episode where Jesus heals many people who were brought to him — and he gives a commentary on why, saying,  “when evening came, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed. He drove out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick, so that what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: He Himself took our weaknesses and carried our diseases” (Mt 8:16-17). He is quoting from Isaiah 53 here, and attributing it not to the death of Jesus only, but to his entire life and ministry. Matthew’s commentary on Isaiah 53 gives the imagery of Jesus bearing sickness in his body in his lifetime. It’s really quite interesting.

Also, in the episode of John 18-19 where Pilate interrogates Jesus, John highlights that Jesus makes no real defense for his innocence. The climax of the interrogation includes John’s personal commentary in which he says, “Jesus did not give an answer” (John 19:9). Since Jesus did in fact speak after this (John 19:11), we can assume that Jesus didn’t give an answer of defense. Meaning, he didn’t try to acquit himself, or argue his innocence — what I think John is highlighting is that Jesus went to the cross purposefully, as the world’s sin-bearer. This reminds us of Isaiah 53:7, that Jesus was a like a “sheep silent before her shearers, [and] He did not open His mouth”. He was bearing the sins of the world on himself, and therefore didn’t try to defend himself!

I believe that Jesus’ entire life was a life of substitution. That he was outcasted, afflicted, smitten, considered hated by God, and all that he might go to the cross as a sinner, even though he is the righteous one. 

I will end this post with a very insightful explanation from Horatius Bonar. His description of this sin-bearing life of Jesus is very helpful. Bonar says:

“[Jesus] was always that sinless One bearing our sins, carrying them up to the cross as well as bearing them upon the cross. Substitution…attached itself to each part of his life as truly as His death. Our burden He assumed when He entered the manger, and laid it aside only at the cross. The utterance, ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30), pointed back to a whole life’s sin-bearing work…

He entered our world as the Substitute. ‘There was no room for them in the inn’ (Lk 2:7) — the inn of Bethlehem, the city of David, His own city. ‘Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor’ (2 Cor 8:9). In poverty and banishment His life begun. He was not allowed either to be born or die [without being] an outcast man. ‘[Outside] the gate’ (Heb 13:12) was His position, as He entered and as He left our earth. Man would not give even a roof to shelter or a cradle to receive the helpless babe. It was as a Substitute that He was the outcast from the first moment of His birth. His vicarious life began in the manger. For what can this poverty mean, this rejection by man, this outcast condition, but that His sin-bearing had begun?” (from The Everlasting Righteousness, emphasis his)

What is the central focus of the Book of Revelation?

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When we think of this book called the Revelation of Jesus Christ, what most likely comes to mind is end times schemes, anti-christ persecution, strange visions and ethereal prophecies. And while these topics are contained in Revelation, what is the center of this great and mysterious biblical book? What is the primarily focus and hope of Revelation?

Horatius Bonar, a 19th century pastor and writer says that Jesus himself is the center and focus of the entire book. He says, “the ‘Lamb as it had been slain’ (Rev 5:6) [is] the theme”.

Bonar continues to say:

“It is the Lamb who stands in the midst of the elders (Rev 5:6), and before whom they fall. ‘Worthy is the Lamb’ is the theme of the celestial song. It is the Lamb who opens the seals (6:1). It is before the Lamb that the great multitude stand clothed in white (7:14). It is by the blood of the Lamb that the victory is won (12:11). The book of life belongs to the Lamb slain (13:8). It was the Lamb that stood on the glorious Mount Zion (14:1). It is the Lamb that the redeemed multitude are seen following (14:4); and that multitude is the first-fruits unto God and unto the Lamb (14:4). It is the song of the Lamb that is sung in heaven (15:3). It is the Lamb that wars and overcomes (17:14). It is to the marriage-super of the Lamb that we are called (19:7, 9). The church is the Lamb’s wife (21:9). On the foundations of the heavenly city are written the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (21:14). Of this city the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple (21:23). Of that city the Lamb is the light (21:23). The book of the life of the Lamb, and the throne of the Lamb (21:27; 22:1, 3), sum up this wondrous list of honours and dignities belonging to the Lord Jesus as the crucified Son of God.

lamb of god

…The Lamb is one of [Jesus’] special and eternal titles, and the name by which He is best known in heaven. As such, we obey and honour and worship Him, never being allowed to lose sight of the cross amid all the glories of the kingdom” (from The Everlasting Righteousness).

Indeed, the ending of Revelation sums the theme of this book (and the entire Bible) up well:

“He (Jesus) who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 20:22)