Truth and Error, Or Letters to a Friend on Some of the Controversies of the Day, by Horatius Bonar. New Ipswich, NH: Pietan Publications, 2014. Paperback. $12.00. [Reviewed by Prof. Douglas Kuiper.]
This book consists of letters written in response to various controversies: denial of the totality of man’s depravity (7, 95ff.); “high Calvinists” quickly becoming “Arminians of the lowest grade” (12); exaltation of man, and diminishing of God’s glory (20ff.). Additionally, Bonar dealt with a wrong understanding of the relationship of man’s will to God’s will (Letter 3); of divine election (Letter 4); of the relationship between God’s foreknowledge and His predestinating decree (Letter 5); of Christ as the substitute for the elect, a definite number (Letter 6); of faith and assurance (Letter 7); and of the Spirit’s work (Letter 9). And, a religious bustle and zeal without vitality (141), manifest by people harping upon “one string; what they call the gospel: (144).
Where and when were these controversies? Yes, in the Netherlands in the early 1600s. Yes, everywhere today. But also in Scotland in the early to middle 1800s. There and then lived Horatius Bonar (1808-1889), pastor of the Free Church of Scotland in Kelso, and author of biographies, hymns, and other books and treatises.
He wrote the ten letters included in this volume to his flock, as a pastor today might email or blog for his congregation about prevalent errors. Bonar exhorts his beloved flock to evaluate these teachings in light of Scripture and to see their error. In the process, Bonar defends the doctrines of sovereign grace and God’s glory in saving sinners. An appendix to the book is entitled “Be Reconciled to God,” and is a sermon on II Corinthians 5:21. Why it is included is not explicitly stated, but it is a fitting pastoral conclusion to the doctrinal treatises.
I called them “doctrinal treatises” because these letters do engage the false doctrines of the day. Though meaty, they are practical and pastoral. One can read them with profit today too, for when one defends the truth against error on the basis of Scripture, the defense and explanations of Scripture need not change. I will not summarize his work, but point out a few gems that I found in it.
First, the response to the charge that Calvinism makes God the author of sin (30) is as pertinent today as ever.
Second, Bonar is good at pointing out logical fallacies that those who oppose the truth make. I found intriguing his point that one who denies that God elected certain particular persons must also deny that God elected Israel as His nation, and David as His king (58).
Third, his remarks regarding the use of the word “all” in Scripture were very instructive. After he categorizes into four classes the 1,200 or so texts in which the word “all” is used, he notes that obviously, in most of the texts, the word “all” cannot mean “every.” Nor do the Arminians try to make the word “all” mean “every” in every place it occurs. Only in a few select texts do the Arminians insist it means “every” (75-78).
Fourth, he deals well with the age-old question that is asked as an attack on Calvinism: “Why does God command men to believe, if they are unable to?” Part of his answer is to remind us that Christ commanded Lazarus to come forth, who was dead—and by His command, gave life (102ff.)!
Having never heard of Pietan Publications before, one more reason I was glad to read this book was to reinforce in my mind that other smaller, lesser-known publishers today are reprinting significant works of years past. Go to www.pietanpublications.com to browse what else they offer.