By Andrew Bonar
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek." Romans 1:16
Andrew Bonar had an early interest in the Jews. Being the people of God who generally had failed to see Jesus as the Messiah, they would have fascinated him on that account, but it is also likely that his interest and admiration for the older Scottish divines like Samuel Rutherford had an influence. Rutherford always spoke tenderly about the Jews as the 'elder' sister to the Church. There was also a movement of Zionism in the air.
At age 19, in 1829, Andrew Bonar writes: "Visited the Jews' Synagogue. Interesting, and instructive too, to us who look upon their delusion with a better knowledge."
This may sound arrogant, but he was so convinced, even before he felt himself saved, that Jesus Christ was the only way to God, that he always had a deep desire, born out of compassion, to show them the better way. It does not appear from his writings that he would have condoned the now increasingly popular view that Jews need no evangelisation.. His love for the Jews made him want to reach them instead, and support any missionary endeavour.
When he went to Edinburgh for a while in 1837, after his work in Jedburgh, he writes: "Hope of seeing some Jews in the town." While he is there, the Committee of the Jewish Society make him their acting secretary.
He writes in April: "Have been with Mr. C., at whose house twelve of us were present to see how the Passover is kept by the Jews. Very illustrative of the Scripture. I felt something of the reality of the twelve disciples sitting down with Christ. Prayed and rejoiced in hope that something was doing here for the Jews. I think the cause of the Jews is one reason of my having been brought from Jedburgh here."
In July: "Conversation with a Jew, Joseph Leo", and a week later: "Began this evening to instruct the Jew, who seems really anxious to know."
In September he is in Liverpool, where he writes: "We this morning got into the synagogue, where I got opportunity of leaving a Jewish tract." In December of the same year he is much encouraged by a meeting: "...many men and two Jews, one lately come, Louis Kinigsberg."
During 1838 the proposed work among the Jews begins to take shape. In February he receives a letter from Mr. Wodrow "telling me that he was to present a memorial to the Presbytery about the Jews next Wednesday, and requesting the prayers of all the friends of Israel here for that object." Just over a week later he writes: "There seems to be now really interest excited among some of the ministers for the Jews. I regard this as a direct and memorable answer to prayer, and all the more that I have had no direct hand in the matter." At the end of the month there is more: "Heard yesterday more news about what the Glasgow Society mean to do for the Jews. Now there is hope of getting our cause brought forward here and in several other places, and even expectation that the General Assembly this very year may be brought to take it up."
In March he attends a large prayer-meeting in Mr. Wodrow's house for the Jews. He also hears of a school in Bombay where 200 Jewish children were taught by Dr. Wilson, "by assistance of our societies."
In May the Jewish cause is to be brought forward in the Assembly of the Church of Scotland. He writes: "Prayed much in the morning for Israel. Saw in God's past doings, in regard to their cause among us, a most special answer to prayer, and encouragement to go forward, and remembered the promise, 'Blessed is he that blesseth thee.' So many ministers and people seem interested all at once. Went to the Assembly. It was the last part of their business, and was carried with much unanimity that a committee be appointed. Praise, praise! I hope now it will be said of us, 'Rejoice ye with Jerusalem;' our Church will be blessed in the joy of Zion."
Ten days later the Committee for the Jews is appointed, and he writes: "At the sermon last night was collected '61."
His talks with Joseph Leo during the year before are evidently successful, because in August the entry in his diary is: "Much helped. Thought and prayed for Joseph Leo, the Jew, who is to be baptized to-day in St.George's." Louis Kinigsberg is also baptized.
1839 brings a new direction. In February he is "somewhat unsettled by the occurrence of a proposal in Edinburgh to send Robert M'Cheyne and myself for six months to inquire about the Jews throughout the Continent of Europe and even round Jerusalem. The very thought of it, however, had the effect of making me feel more called upon to speak now with earnestness while at home."
It is of great importance to him to educate people about the Jews, and after he has been preaching in Kelso, he writes: "..addressed the Sabbath-school children about the Jews, which brought to my mind much the strange proposal now going on.....I am now able to pray that if this proposed mission be one that will effect anything I may be sent." Several weeks later he feels similarly: "Enabled to-day and last night to feel more closeness and reality in prayer for revival among my people, and in regard to the Jews."
In March he hears that: "I am appointed along with M'Cheyne, Wodrow (whose place was later taken by Rev. Dr. Keith), and Dr.Black to go upon the expedition. I am giving this night wholly to prayer about this matter, its success, and my part in it." He then receives "the letter of the Committee requesting me to go to the Jews. It is a very solemn matter to me.....Spent the forenoon in prayer."
He is worried about his people, as he is by then minister in Collace. He says: "My people have no conscience of the duty of attending to the Jews...", but at the end of March the Presbytery gives him leave to go for six months.
On 21st March he leaves to go on his journey, bound for France, Italy, Malta, Greece, Egypt, Palestine, Smyrna, Constantinople, Wallachia, Moldavia, Poland, Prussia and Germany.
The "Narrative of a Mission of Inquiry to the Jews", published the following year, gives a very interesting record of these travels. While he is away from his people, he sends pastoral letters, which Mr. Nairne of Dunsinnane reads to the people.
On Friday November 22nd Andrew Bonar returns to Collace, and finds that at his next service the church is crowded with people wanting "to hear something about Jerusalem".
At the meeting of the Presbytery at Perth in December, he is called to give a statement of the mission to the Jews, and in the same month he goes to Glasgow and Greenock to attend meetings for the Jews, "where I felt especially helped in preaching upon the subject."
At the beginning of 1841 he mentions "I have been permitted to visit and preach in many more places than before, in this way experiencing the blessing of the Jewish cause." An important event happens on March 12th: "The day whereon the first missionary to Israel was ordained in Edinburgh. A memorable day for the Church."
The Jews remain close to his heart. In August 1850 he writes: "Felt great sorrow at not having prayed for the Jews or spoken for them in public to-day."
For many years they are not mentioned in his diary, but when a new church is built in 1878 during his ministry in Glasgow, he has arranged that there is an inscription from Proverbs 11 in Hebrew above the door.
These words were put there to remind people of the reason for the existence of the church, and also in the hope that some Jews might see them, and come in to worship the God of Abraham.
The Mildmay Mission to the Jews, led by Mr Wilkinson, decided to send the recently converted David Baron with James Adler to Scotland in 1881. Great blessing attended their mission, and a friendship was formed with Andrew Bonar. He wrote a letter to Mr. Wilkinson at the Mildmay Mission. (Information from 'David Baron, A Prince in Israel' by Ronnie McCracken)
In 1882, on July 2nd, there is reason for joy : "In the evening baptized the Jew, Marcus Buck. I bless God that I have had this privilege in my ministry before its close."
Seven years later, on May 25th, 1889 he writes: "Yesterday evening at the General Assembly of our Church, that being the exact date of the time when, fifty years ago, the deputation to Palestine began their journey from Egypt to the Holy Land. Having been requested to be present and tell reminiscences of that time, I was helped in doing so. And then Dr. Saphir (see note below) spoke most profitably. I am the only survivor of the deputation, and very few of those that took much interest in the Jews at that time, are now alive. But how wonderfully the Lord has blessed this work! And how kind He has been to me in connection with it. 'O for a well-tuned harp!'"
Adolph Saphir was a Jewish Christian preacher who came to the Lord along with others, e.g. Alfred Edersheim, in response to the mission of five Scottish clergymen (including Andrew Bonar and Robert Murray McCheyne) who traveled across Europe in the first part of the 19th century, sharing Jesus with the Jewish communities they passed through.
The lectures in the book below were originally addressed to Gentile believers and approached issues such as the nature of God's special people, His plans for them and Jewish evangelism. This book is a reflection of the early stages of the modern Messianic Movement in England.
'Christ and Israel' by Adolph Saphi , sold by Jews for Jesus.
There is also a fascinating testimony of the conversion of Rabbi Leopold Cohn, D.D. in which he tells of Andrew Bonar and his congregation at Finnieston Church praying for him when he is baptized in Edinburgh.
In the early 1890's, David Baron, together with C.A.Schonberger founded the Hebrew Christian Testimony to Israel. From its very small beginnings in a rented room in the Whitechapel area of the east end of London it quickly rose to become one of the best known and most repected Jewish Missions in the world. In a short time the work spread throughout Europe and on to what was then called Palestine, encouraged all the while by the saintly Dr. Andrew Bonar who had become a devoted friend of the work. Indeed the great Andrew Bonar Memorial Mission to the Jews, held to mark the passing of that great man of God, was conducted by David Baron.
(Information from 'David Baron, A Prince in Israel' by Ronnie McCracken)