Book Review: The Blood Of The Cross

The Blood Of The Cross, by Horatius Bonar

I must admit that I am not very familiar with the life story of the author, except that I know him to be a prolific writer and Scottish Calvinist.  Given that the author chooses to focus in writing on the Bible and its implications, this is enough knowledge to have an idea about what the author is trying to do and not entirely succeeding at.  As someone who is by no means unfamiliar with the writing of Calvinists [1], I must admit it is somewhat interesting to ponder the bad logic that pervades much of Calvinist thinking, and the areas of possible inquiry and discussion that are entirely avoided in the approach this author (and others like him) take to matters of obvious importance for believers.  Yet despite ample opportunity to do so, the author is fixated on a symbol (albeit an immensely important one) and fails to put that symbol of the blood in its larger context.  This lacking is something one tends to often get in messages of this kind, where the author knows he is hitting an important subject but does not tease out the incompleteness of what is being discussed so that he (or someone else) can expand the context later on.

Admirably, this book is a short one, and seems to be taken from sermon materials by the author–hopefully this was a sermon given over multiple messages, as it would have taken some time to deliver had it all been in one part.  This work of less than 50 pages might even be considered a tract, albeit a rather hefty one.  It begins with a preface that discusses the importance of accepting the blood of Christ as a substitution for the repentant believer’s own worthy blood being slain for wickedness.  After that the author looks at the accusation the blood represents (1) for those who do not believe, especially the original Jewish audience of the early Church.  This leads the author to discuss the guilt of Israel in particular (2) as well as sinful humanity as a whole (3) for the death of Christ, although strangely enough the author does not focus on the guilt of the Roman Empire in particular.  This leads the author to talk about God’s controversy with the world (4) and His view of the blood of Christ (5).  Later chapters follow up on ways God proclaims the value of the blood (6), and the thoughts of the blood by careless sinners (7), awakened sinners (8), the saint (9), and lost souls concerning it (10) before the author closes with good news (11).

While it is easy for the reader to perceive that something is wrong with this book, it is less easy to figure out where the author goes wrong.  Little hints provide some insight, like the author’s misunderstanding of the parable of the prodigal son in not seeing that both sons were lost and alienated from their father, one physically and the other relationally.  Likewise, the author’s failure to understand the specific Roman/civil failures relating to the crucifixion and the author’s lack of interest in looking at how the acceptance of Christ also involves an acceptance of His life and ways as an example for us to follow mean that the author is narrowly focused on salvation as a moment and not as a process of increasing obedience to God through the indwelling presence of the Spirit.  Why is the author uninterested in this?  There is a clear line from the author’s thinking to the ragamuffin Gospel, in which one glories in the blood of Christ and in the mercy and graciousness of Christ without any idea of the ethical demands that God places on the redeemed Christian that he (or she) may show a godly example of obedience to a rebellious world.  At least in this case the issue appears to be the narrowness of the focus of the author and not an obvious adoption of heretical views, although this work could have been far better than it is.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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