For the Love of Zion

Every generation has its heroes, but I wonder if Scotland will ever again be blessed by a concentration of spiritual giants gracing the land as happened in the mid to late 19th Century. One of those “giants” was Andrew Bonar, who was in the front rank of all that was remarkable about the Scottish Presbyterianism of that time.
Bonar was one of a group of friends whose passion for, prayer for and work for God’s ancient people led to an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. His hermeneutical axiom was, “Let unfulfilled prophecy be interpreted with the same literality, and no more, that we find borne out by fulfilled prophecy.”

Bonar’s conviction was that work amongst the Jews was biblical, merciful and profitable.

First, he was convinced that the evangelism of the Jews was biblical. In
Acts 1:8 our risen Lord told his disciples that after the Spirit came upon them they would be his witnesses “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” We tend to read that passage through a redemptive historical matrix, but for Bonar nothing had changed about the Lord’s call to his church. The gospel must first and always be preached in Jerusalem. Bonar differentiated between Jewish and Gentile mission and saw the foundation for blessing in Gentile mission as being in the faithful pursuit of Jewish mission. His reading of Scripture also led him to believe that “there is a day coming when God will bless the Jews more than he has done the Gentiles.”

Secondly, he was convinced that the evangelism of the Jews was merciful. Through his travels, especially his “mission of enquiry” in 1839, Bonar became acquainted with the lives and deaths of the Jewish people. More than any other people on earth, they have been subjected to hardship, xenophobia and persecution. They live unhappy lives, but even worse after they die, if they have not acknowledged their Messiah – and so Bonar writes, “Jews are miserable enough in life, but yet more so in death.”

Thirdly, he was convinced that the evangelism of the Jews was profitable. Bonar’s interest in Jewish mission under girded his belief in the success of Gentile mission – particularly in his own congregation in Finnieston. He writes, “All those who love Zion are made to prosper.” On the occasion of his jubilee celebrations in 1888, Bonar told a packed audience of fellow ministers and sundry, “It is something for any minister to have his hand in Jewish work. If you want a blessing put your hand to the Jewish work. It will not encumber you or hinder you but it will greatly bless you.” Could the roots of Bonar’s success in his congregation be attributed not just to prayer, but also to his interest in Jewish mission? Such a conclusion does no violence to Paul’s teaching in Romans 9-11.

In closing, can I make this one impassioned plea, especially to those who preach the Word and lead our people into the Scriptures – please be a friend to the Jews! It will call down the blessing of God upon you and your congregation. You will not be the loser for loving Zion.

Colin Dow

Rev Dr Colin Dow is the minister of St Vincent Street Free Church of Scotland in Glasgow. This article is adapted from his lecture Andrew Bonar – Joshua of the Disruption, the full text of which is available on the St Vincent Street Church website:
This article first appeared in the Spring 2008 edition of the Herald

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