Born: December 19, 1808, Old Broughton, Edinburgh, Scotland.
Died: July 31, 1889, Edinburgh, Scotland.
Buried: Canongate churchyard, Edinburgh, Scotland.
Bonar has been called
the prince of Scottish hymn writers.
After graduating from the University of Edinburgh, he was ordained in 1838, and became pastor of the North Parish, Kelso. He joined the Free Church of Scotland after the
Disruption of 1843, and for a while edited the church’s Border Watch.
Bonar stayed in Kelso for 28 years, then moved to the Chalmers Memorial Church in Edinburgh, where he served the rest of his life.
Bonar wrote more than 600 hymns. At a memorial service following his death, his friend, Rev. E. H. Lundie, said:
His hymns were written in very varied circumstances, sometimes timed by the tinkling brook that babbled near him; sometimes attuned to the ordered tramp of the ocean, whose crested waves broke on the beach by which he wandered; sometimes set to the rude music of the railway train that hurried him to the scene of duty; sometimes measured by the silent rhythm of the midnight stars that shone above him.
I miss the dear paternal dwelling,
Which memory still undimmed recalls,
A thousand early stories telling,
I miss the venerable walls.
I miss the chamber of my childhood,
I miss the shade of boyhood’s tree—
The glen, the path, the cliff, the wildwood,
The music of the well known sea.
I miss the ivied haunt of moonlight,
I miss the forest and the stream,
I miss the fragrant grove of noonlight,
I miss our mountain’s sunset gleam.
I miss the green slope, where reposing,
I mused upon the near and far,
Marked, one by one, each floweret closing,
Watched, one by one, each opening star.
I miss the well remembered faces,
The voices, forms of fresher days;
Time ploughs not up these deep drawn traces,
These lines no ages can erase.
I miss them all, for, unforgetting,
My spirit o’er the past still strays,
And, much its wasted years regretting,
It treads again these shaded ways.
I mourn not that each early token
Is now to me a faded flower,
Nor that magic snare is broken
That held me with its mystic power.
I murmur not that now a stranger,
I pass along the smiling earth;
I know the share, I dread the danger,
I hate the haunts, I shun the mirth.
My hopes are passing upward, onward,
And with my hopes my heart has gone;
My eye is turning skyward, sunward,
Where glory brightens round yon throne.
My spirit seeks its dwelling yonder;
And faith fore-dates the joyful day
When these old skies shall cease to sunder
The one dear, love-linked family.
Well pleased I find years rolling o’er me,
And hear each day time’s measured tread;
Far fewer clouds now stretch before me,
Behind me is the darkness spread.
And summer’s suns are swiftly setting,
And life moves downward in their train,
And autumn dews are fondly wetting
The faded cheek of earth in vain.
December moons are coldly waning,
And life with them is on the wane;
Storm laden skies with sad complaining,
Bend blackly o’er the unsmiling main.
My future from my past unlinking,
Each dying year untwines the spell;
The visible is swiftly sinking,
Uprises the invisible.
To light, unchanging and eternal,
From mists that sadden this bleak waste,
To scenes that smile for ever vernal,
From winter’s blackening leaf I haste.
Earth, what a sorrow lives before thee,
None like it in the shadowy past—
The sharpest throe that ever tore thee,
Even tho’ the briefest and the last!
I see the fair moon veil her luster,
I see the sackcloth of the sun;
The shrouding of each starry cluster,
The threefold woe of earth begun.
I see the shadows of its sunset;
And wrapped in these the Avenger’s form;
I see the Armageddon onset;
But I shall be above the storm.
There comes the moaning and the sighing,
There comes the hot tear’s heavy fall,
The thousand agonies of dying—
But I shall be beyond them all.
Hymns of Faith and Hope, 1857